SHANGHAI — Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, broadly endorsed free trade principles and promised to welcome foreign investment in a speech on Tuesday, but he stopped short of providing specifics or addressing his country’s long-running trade war with the United States.
Speaking at the opening of the second annual China International Import Expo in Shanghai, Mr. Xi indirectly criticized the Trump administration when he briefly denounced unilateralism.
“Economic globalization is a historical trend,” he said, comparing the momentum to the world’s great rivers. “Although there are sometimes some waves going backward, and even though there are many shoals, the rivers are rushing forward and no one can stop them.”
Most of Mr. Xi’s remarks were devoted to promising that China would maintain its long-running program of economic reform and opening up. Many Western economists have suggested that during his seven years in power, Mr. Xi has gradually shifted the economy back toward a greater reliance on domestic industries, especially state-owned enterprises.
Mr. Xi sought to portray a different image on Tuesday morning, saying that the Communist Party’s top leaders in a meeting last week had reaffirmed the principle that China must engage more with the rest of the world.
“China will open its doors only wider to the world,” he said. “China will adhere to the fundamental state policy of opening up.”
President Emmanuel Macron of France, speaking after Mr. Xi at the opening ceremony, also indirectly criticized the Trump administration’s confrontational approach to demanding trade policy changes from China.
“Should we just resort to unilateralism, tariffs and the law of the jungle?” Mr. Macron asked. “Is that the way forward? I don’t think so.”
Chinese and American negotiators reached the outlines of a “first phase” trade agreement in Washington on Oct. 11. The framework calls for China to make large-scale purchases of American farm goods and improve protections for intellectual property. In exchange, the Trump administration committed to roll back at least some of its recent increases in tariffs on Chinese goods. The two sides have been working out the details ever since.
Previous plans for Mr. Xi and President Trump to conclude a deal on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit at the end of next week in Chile were thrown into disarray when the Chilean government canceled the meeting last week because of street protests in the capital, Santiago. Mr. Trump has suggested that a signing could be held in Iowa instead.
Mr. Xi did not mention on Tuesday when, where or even whether an agreement might be signed.
China is also trying to finalize by January the regulations for a new legal code governing foreign investment. The National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp legislature, approved the new legal code last March, but it was little more than a framework, with some critical issues addressed by only a single sentence and the details left to be resolved in the regulations.
Carlo Diego D’Andrea, the chairman of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, said on Monday that draft regulations released last month offered some improvements. But by preserving a separate legal code for foreign investors, he said, the new arrangement ensures that they will not be treated completely equally to domestic investors.
At the same time, China continues to impose many rules that deeply frustrate foreign investors, he said.
“You have hundreds of regulations and indirect barriers that make your life miserable doing business here,” Mr. D’Andrea said.
The import expo is designed to promote an image of China as a big customer for foreign exporters and as a proponent of free trade. More than 3,000 companies from around the world have sent delegates or opened exhibit booths at Shanghai’s immense convention center, which has five times the exhibition area of the Javits Center in New York City.