By Tom Miles
BERN (Reuters) - China's economy will remain stable and keep growing steadily while resisting protectionism, President Xi Jinping told Swiss executives on Monday.
"We are confident" Xi said, adding that there were headwinds facing the global economy, which is still weak.
"Overall China's economy is performing steadily. In 2016, last year, GDP is expected to grow by 6.7 percent on a year-on-year basis, and that means we missed our set target, but that expectation according to some international institutions will be among the highest among major economies."
"Protectionism, populism and de-globalization are on the rise. It’s not good for closer economic cooperation globally," he said.
Xi, on a state visit to Switzerland before a keynote speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, said China's economy, with growth expected at 6.7 percent in 2016, was entering a "new normal", and Swiss firms could help it improve quality, and become more efficient, equitable and sustainable.
“The restructuring of China’s economy and the upgrading of our industries will generate huge new demand.” Xi said.
"In terms of intellectual manufacturing, finance, insurance, energy conservation, environmental protection, energy generation, electricity, food and medicine, Switzerland has advanced technology and... expertise and could be a new partner for innovation for China.”
China owed its economic development to opening up, and Switzerland and China would work together to reject all forms of protectionism, he said.
“We will expand the openness of our service sector and general manufacturing industry to provide more investment opportunities for foreign businesses and create a sound legal and policy environment a legal playing field.”
China has become Swiss engineering company ABB's <ABBN.S> second biggest single market, behind only the United States, amid demand for high voltage transmission equipment for the country's burgeoning power grid and factory robots for the Middle Kingdom's car industry.
Elevator maker Schindler <SCHP.S> has designs on rivaling bigger Kone <KNEBV.HE> and Otis, a unit of U.S.-based United Technologies <UTX.N>, in China, where it has made acquisitions and expanded manufacturing facilities for elevators and escalators.
China is the world's biggest elevator market, accounting for about 60 percent of all new equipment orders, and Schindler said it is scouting for more acquisitions.
Swiss drug and chemical makers are also fanning out in China. Novartis <NOVN.S> just completed a $1 billion research campus in Shanghai, while Clariant <CLN.S> is pinning its hopes on rising Chinese consumer demand for products including ingredients for soaps.
Meanwhile, China's state-owned China Construction Bank got its Swiss banking license in 2015 and signed a renminbi clearing agreement with Swiss-based Zuercher Kantonalbank just last September. Switzerland is seeking to become a hub of renminbi trading, as China seeks to internationalize its currency and reduce reliance on other nations' money for trade.
(Reporting by Tom Miles, additional reporting by John Miller in Zurich, Editing by Angus MacSwan)