Mr. President, it is with the greatest pleasure that I welcome you to this house of the United Nations, your house, which is a living expression of the economic and social development aspirations of the Latin American and Caribbean peoples. For ECLAC and for me personally, it is a great honour that you have chosen to come to our institution to share your views on the relations between China and the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Those relations date far back in our history. Chinese immigrants have left an indelible mark on many countries in our region, especially in the Caribbean basin and Peru, and have made their contribution to the cultural melting pot that is at the root of the formation of our nations.
In recent decades, we have learned to admire, Mr. President, China's capacity to combine swift economic modernization with social development and equity. China's rate of growth, which has allowed it to quintuple its per capita gross domestic product in the last two decades, has astounded development experts everywhere and has amazed all of us who have had the opportunity to visit your country during these years. The fact that you have combined this remarkable achievement with an expanded coverage of the basic needs of China's 1.25 billion inhabitants and an 86% reduction in extreme poverty in rural areas is even more impressive.
As the Minister for Foreign Affairs of your country explained to us just a few months ago in this same room, this feat is the result of reform and liberalization policies implemented by the Government of China which have 'crowned the historic transition from a cloistered and withdrawn society to international openness and participation'. Thanks to this policy stance, China's trade with the rest of the world has grown at an annual rate of 15% in the past few decades. Its openness to trade is now higher than that of many other East Asian countries and than the average in Latin America and the Caribbean. This policy has also turned China into one of the major destinations for foreign direct investment in the world (US$ 320 billion).
I would also like to draw attention to China's prudent economic management during the recent Asian crisis, which allowed it not only to greatly soften that crisis' impact on its own economy but also to prevent it from deepening in the region as a whole and thus avert the perhaps incalculable effects it could have had on the world economy. China's economic growth rate slowed down by only 0.7 percentage points in 1998-1999, and this was far outweighed by the 8.2% growth rate recorded in 2000.
These changes and advances have, of course, had a significant effect on its relations with Latin America and the Caribbean. Nonetheless, we still have a long way to go in this respect. Export and import levels have been climbing steeply, but they are still quite low. China's share in total Asian-Pacific trade with our region has expanded considerably. In the past decade, its share of Asian-Pacific imports from Latin America and the Caribbean has risen by nearly 7 percentage points. The increase is even larger in the case of exports, which jumped from 3.2% of total Asian-Pacific exports to our region in 1990 to 12.4% by 1999. These figures demonstrate that relations between China and our region hold out an enormous potential which we have already started to profit from.
The diversification of China's exports contrasts, however, with the composition of our exports, which are mainly commodities and semi-manufactures highly sensitive to importing countries' economic cycles. Consequently, we fully realize that it is in our best interests to form strategic alliances that will enable us to diversify our markets and increase our value added at all points along the production chain. And China occupies a very prominent position within this strategy.
Our region and your country share a great many interests. Your visit, Mr. President, should help us to make major strides forward in our relations and, in so doing, multiply the opportunities offered by trade, investment and economic cooperation in general.
It is also important to carry forward a dialogue concerning international economic and social issues of mutual interest. One such issue is the reform of the international financial structure, which is currently the focus of a process of consultation within the United Nations that will culminate in the International Conference on the Financing of Development to be held in Mexico in early 2002. There is a great deal of room for the development of common points of view on the role to be played in this area by major world institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Bank for International Settlements; for the design of complementary regional cooperation mechanisms, some of which -such as the regional and subregional development banks, the Latin American Reserve Fund and the mutual support mechanisms established among the central banks of China, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the ASEAN countries- already exist; for the two regions to actively participate in the design of international financial codes and standards; and for an exchange of experiences regarding national financial reforms, the regulation of capital flows and the effectiveness of prudential supervision and regulation of financial systems.
This is just one of the themes in the agenda which is necessary to build an international economic and social order that is more equitable for developing countries, an order which must be firmly rooted in international cooperation and solidarity, and in the respect for the different national ways to face the challenges of globalization. An economic and social order in which the rich declarations of the United Nations summits, including particularly the Millenium Declaration, will become effective. We are looking forward to the remarks that you will make shortly on the ways to face the challenge of building a more equitable international order and the need to increase cooperation among developing countries for that purpose.
Ladies and gentlemen:
His Excellency Mr. Jiang Zemin, President of the People's Republic of China, is an extremely knowledgeable man with a wide range of experience at his command. He is an electrical engineer and has had a successful career in both industry and research. Later he entered the field of international trade and foreign investment and became Deputy Chairman and Secretary-General of the State Commission for the Administration of Imports and Exports and the State Commission for the Administration of Foreign Investment. He has also served as Minister and Secretary of the Directorate of the Communist Party of China, Major of Shanghai, Member of the Central Committee, Member of the Political Bureau, Chairman of the Military Commission of the Central Committee and Secretary-General of that Committee. In March 1993, he was elected President of the People's Republic of China and Chairman of the Central Military Commission and was re-elected to those posts in 1998.
At the dawn of the twenty-first century, we clearly understand that we should work actively to strengthen and intensify our relations. Your visit to our continent bears witness to that fact. Your presence here does this Commission a great honour, and I wish to reiterate our commitment to promoting and supporting the development and consolidation of relations between the People's Republic of China and our region.