BOAO, China - China's new No. 2 leader said Thursday that its economy improved in March, and he tried to reassure foreign companies the country is committed to opening to the world.
Premier Li Qiang spoke before an international audience of businesspeople and politicians as his government tries to revive business and consumer confidence after anti-virus controls that isolated China were abruptly dropped in December.
The economy showed 'encouraging momentum of rebounding' in January and February, Li said at the Boao Forum for Asia on the southern island of Hainan.
'The situation in March is even better,' Li said. He said consumption and investment picked up and 'market expectations improved.'
Chinese retail sales rose 3.5% over a year earlier in January and February, recovering from December's 1.8% contraction, government data showed earlier. Spending on restaurants rose 9.2%. Growth in investment in real estate and other fixed assets accelerated to 5.5% from December's 5.1%.
Li's audience included Prime Ministers Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, Pedro Sanchez of Spain and Anwar Ibrahim of Malaysia and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva.
A former Communist Party secretary for Shanghai, Li took office this month in a once-a-decade change of government that installed loyalists of Chinese leader Xi Jinping to enforce his vision of tighter political control over the economy and society.
The premier sought to counter unease about growing state dominance in the economy and tension with the United States over security, technology and trade.
'No matter how the world situation may evolve, we will stay committed to reform, opening up and innovation-driven development,' Li said. 'We welcome countries around the world to share in the opportunities and benefits that come with China's development.'
Li called China a global 'anchor of peace,' a statement that conflicts with the ruling Communist Party's military buildup and menacing behavior toward Taiwan, Japan and other neighbors.
China's military budget, second only to that of the United States, was increased this month for a 29th straight year. Xi's government has stepped up efforts to intimidate Taiwan, which Beijing claims as part of its territory, by flying fighter jets and firing missiles into the sea near the self-ruled island democracy.
'To achieve greater success, chaos and conflict must not happen in Asia,' the premier said. 'Otherwise, the future of Asia would be lost.'