Beijing urges WTO: Put US tariff ‘beast back in the cage’
BEIJING: China yesterday lashed out at US “economic intimidation” following President Donald Trump’s announcement of new import tariffs, but said it was open to negotiations to resolve trade frictions.
The two countries have traded threats and heated rhetoric in recent days, ratcheting up fears that the world’s two biggest economies are heading towards a damaging trade war. Trump said last Thursday that the United States would impose new tariffs on some $60 billion of Chinese imports over the “theft” of intellectual property, rattling global financial markets.
Vice President Mike Pence boasted the measures mean that the “era of economic surrender is over”.
Asked about the remarks, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a press briefing on Monday that “it would have been more appropriate to say that it’s time to stop the US’s economic intimidation and hegemony”. Beijing has not stood idle. On Friday, it unveiled a list of $3 billion worth of US goods, including fruits and wine, that could be targeted with tariffs in retaliation for steel and aluminum tariffs-if negotiations fail.
“We also have the confidence and the capacity to safeguard our legitimate and legal interests, whatever the circumstances,” Hua said. “Now the ball is in the US court.”
While the two sides have traded barbs in public, US and Chinese officials have begun behind-the-scenes negotiations to improve American access to the Asian country’s huge market, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“We keep saying that the Chinese side is willing to negotiate with the US to properly manage divergences, on the basis of mutual respect and equal mutual benefits,” Hua said when asked about the report. “Our door is always wide open to dialogue and consultation.”
The Wall Street Journal said the discussions-led by China’s economic “czar” Liu He, US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and US trade representative Robert Lighthizer-cover topics including manufacturing and financial services, citing anonymous sources close to the issue.
Mnuchin and Lighthizer sent Liu a letter last week spelling out requests including greater US access to China’s financial sector, the reduction of Chinese tariffs on US vehicles and for China to increase its US semiconductor purchases.
Speaking on Fox News Sunday, the US treasury secretary said “we’re working on a pathway to see if we can reach an agreement as to what fair trade is for them.”
“I am cautiously hopeful we reach an agreement, but if not we are proceeding with these tariffs.”
China’s official Xinhua news agency said at the weekend that Liu, a Xi aide who was promoted to the post of vice premier earlier this month, told Mnuchin on Saturday that Beijing was “ready to defend its national interests”, but both “agreed to continue to communicate”.
China is not the only country facing Trump’s ire over trade. Trump on Thursday authorized the suspension of the controversial tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from key trade partners including the European Union, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico and South Korea-but only until May 1. Seoul, a major US ally in Asia, said on Monday that it has agreed to concessions with the United States to escape the steel duties and to secure a revised trade deal that Trump has repeatedly threatened to tear up.
Meanwhile, China called on World Trade Organization members yesterday to unite to prevent the United States “wrecking” the WTO and urged them to oppose US tariffs targeting China’s alleged theft of intellectual property. Beijing’s envoy Zhang Xiangchen told delegates at the Geneva-based trade body that President Donald Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on up to $60 billion of Chinese goods under Section 301 of the 1974 US Trade Act broke WTO rules.
“The US is setting a very bad precedent by bluntly breaching its commitment made to the world. WTO members should jointly prevent the resurrection of 301 investigations and lock this beast back into the cage of the WTO rules,” he said. Unilateral investigations under Section 301 were fundamentally against WTO rules, Zhang said, adding that Washington had given a commitment, after a previous WTO ruling, not to impose such tariffs unless it won the right to do so in a WTO dispute.
China is prepared to react using WTO rules and “other necessary ways”, to safeguard its rights and interests, he said, according to a written copy of his remarks provided to Reuters. “Unilateralism is fundamentally incompatible with the WTO, like fire and water. In the open sea, if the boat capsizes, no one is safe from drowning. We shouldn’t stay put watching someone wrecking the boat. The WTO is under siege and all of us should lock arms to defend it.” – Agencies