Beijing holds back in trade row

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 November, 2011, 12:00am


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China refrained from making a sharply worded response to criticism by the United States over trade and currency issues, and a senior official gave a positive outlook on bilateral ties while stressing that the two economies are important trade partners.

Rather than hit back at comments by US President Barack Obama, Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said China welcomed the participation of the US in the Asia-Pacific region, during a press briefing yesterday on the upcoming East Asia Summit in Indonesia.

Premier Wen Jiabao, who will arrive in Bali tomorrow, may meet Obama, Liu said.

Grudges between the two countries may be brought up at the meeting because the US wants to discuss South China Sea disputes while Beijing wants to focus on economic co-operation.

Obama appeared tough on Beijing at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit on Monday, demanding that China play by the rules on currency and trade issues because it was 'grown-up'.

Liu responded by saying that China was still a developing country, even though it is the second-largest economy in the world. 'You cannot simply expect China to make the same kind of contributions as a developed country like the US,' he said.

Liu said it is 'an objective fact that cannot be denied' that the two countries are important trade partners and influential figures in the AsiaPacific region. 'I believe that with the deepening of globalisation and the development of Asia-Pacific regional co-operation, there is enormous potential to be tapped in terms of Sino-US co-operation,' he said.

Obama on Saturday will become the first US president to attend the East Asia Summit, a move widely regarded as showcasing the country's diplomatic shift towards Asia.

The US identified three areas of focus for the summit: disaster relief, non-proliferation and maritime security, which includes the South China Sea disputes.

But Liu said the disputes should be resolved only through consultations between parties that have direct interests. 'The South China Sea has nothing to do with the East Asia Summit. The summit is a forum for discussing economic co-operation and development,' he said. 'The intervention of outside forces is not helpful for the settlement of this issue. On the contrary, it will only complicate the issue and sabotage peace, stability and development in the region.'

Liang Wentao, a deputy director-general of the Ministry of Commerce, said China aimed to boost trade ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, adding that bilateral trade with Asean members reached US$267 billion by September, representing an increase of 21.4 per cent over the same period last year.

Tao Wenzhao, a senior research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of American Studies, said China would remain firmly opposed to discussing South China Sea disputes on a multilateral stage.

'Even though some countries may propose discussing the disputes at the summit, China will not argue with them,' he said.

Yang Baoyun, an expert on Southeast Asia affairs at Peking University, said China wanted to discuss the global financial crisis at the summit, rather than territorial disputes.