President Xi Jinping on Monday will open a Shanghai import fair intended as a signal by China that its markets are open despite mounting criticism to the contrary and the worsening trade war with Washington.
Organisers say more than 3,000 foreign companies from 130 countries including the United States, Europe and across Asia, will put their products on display for potential Chinese buyers at the China International Import Expo.
Companies in attendance include General Motors, Ford, Microsoft, Samsung, Walmart, and Tesla.
Xi is expected to deliver an address some time on Monday morning to open an event attended by several foreign heads of government including Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Xi has said the expo proves China is willing to reduce its huge trade surpluses with other countries, but it is not known whether he will unveil new trade or liberalisation initiatives in Shanghai.
The run-up has triggered fresh calls for China to take actionable steps to improve a domestic playing field that critics say is skewed in favour of Chinese businesses.
The US and EU business lobbies in China, and the French and German ambassadors to Beijing, last week called on China to use the expo to announce concrete change.
Foreign businesses have complained about a range of preferential polices that benefit Chinese firms, requirements that foreign companies form joint ventures with Chinese partners, forced technology transfers, rampant intellectual property violations and various restrictive red tape measures.
The expo has been met with some foreign scepticism, with Washington snubbing the gathering by not sending high-level representation, instead calling on China to change ‘unfair’ trade practises.
But the lure of China remains strong and the US contingent includes even tech giants such as Facebook, which is blocked in China, and Google, which pulled out years ago over censorship and cyber-attacks.
Both are seen as eyeing new ways into China’s giant market.
Experts say the week-long expo is also a message by Beijing that, as it pivots from an export-based economy toward one relying more on the buying power of its 1.4 billion people, other countries will need to work with China if they want a piece of that action.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates will join a business forum, but the touchy optics of attending a China import expo amid trade tensions means few big-name American CEOs are confirmed.