CIFTIS reveals foreign confidence in China's market for financial services

By Andy Mok
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, September 14, 2020
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A visitor interacts with a robot for bank services in the Financial Services Exhibition Hall of the 2020 China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS) in Beijing, Sept. 5, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

China has set "two centenary goals" to pursue economic and social development, which aim to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2021 and build a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious within the next 30 years. 

The former goal essentially means making sure that China's development improves the lives of all its people, particularly those who are below or near the country's poverty line. 

According to Xinhua, this is the reason why much of the reform being accelerated in recent years has aimed to prevent and control major risks, alleviate poverty, curb pollution, and deepen supply-side structural reform to ensure sustained and healthy economic and social development. 

China's remarkable and historic achievements towards achieving these goals are well-known, indicating social advancement can be achieved through scientific progress. 

With the achievement of the first of the two centenary goals, China now faces a new set of challenges, with complacency and inertia as well as a much more difficult international environment being among them. Looking ahead, China seeks to become a "modern, harmonious, creative and high-income society." 

One of the prerequisites for achieving this goal is advancing China's service industries through major exhibition platforms such as China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS). The just-concluded exhibition, which covered a broad range of services ranging from culture and education to winter sports, financial services, emerged as being of particular importance. 

At $45 trillion, China's financial market is enormous. But it is also still relatively underdeveloped and, until recently, had little foreign participation. For example, according to the People's Bank of China, as of July 2019, foreign investors held just 3% of the Chinese market. Not surprisingly, global financial institutions such as BlackRock, with $7 trillion in assets under management, have called China "an opportunity too big to ignore."

And there is great optimism of the long-term outlook. According to Geraldine Buckingham, BlackRock's head of Asia Pacific, speaking in a Bloomberg interview: "China's financial reform will not only continue but will accelerate." With lowered barriers to entry many foreign investors will have access to previously unavailable opportunities. In a world facing almost zero interest rates, this will be of vital importance for pension funds and others depending on attractive investment returns. 

But there is also immense domestic demand for a wider portfolio of investment products, especially as China's population ages and funding of its pensions also become a priority. As a result, experienced asset managers including BlackRock who are able to offer diversification and investment management expertise are particularly well-suited to benefit from China's progress toward its second century goal. 

While there is indeed cause for concern, anxiety and even alarm over attempts at decoupling and isolationism, amidst these dark clouds there are still glimmers of hope and optimism. 

The financial sector attracts some of the most visionary and clear-eyed risk-takers and decision makers. Their confidence in China's financial services opening and reform should be a source of encouragement for those who see the value of greater openness and integration. It is also a vote of confidence in China's audacious commitment to the perfection of society through scientific progress. 

Andy Mok is a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for China and Globalization and Geopolitics Lecturer at Beijing Foreign Studies University.

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