Sino-US relations

Sino-US ties will stay stable ‘no matter who is elected’ as US president: China’s Premier Li Keqiang

New York audience assured door to Chinese market ‘will never close’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2016, 5:11pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2016, 11:04pm

Premier Li Keqiang says relations between China and the United States will remain stable “no matter who is elected” as the next US president, as he attempts to alleviate concerns over uncertain Sino-US ties.

Li, who was in New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly, said he could not comment much on the election as it is an internal affair for the US, and nor would he be able to state which candidate he favoured.

“Speaking as the Chinese Premier,” he said, “no matter who gets elected, Sino-US relations will definitely remain stable and promising.”

It is the first time a top Chinese leader has addressed the possible impact on Sino-US ties of the US election.

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Li’s remarks, delivered at the Economic Club in New York, came as observers watch whether bilateral ties between the two nations will deteriorate due to campaign politics. Republican candidate Donald Trump has threatened to impose 45 per cent tariffs on Chinese goods and accused China of stealing American manufacturing jobs, while his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton has vowed to stand up to China should it violate trade rules.

Li also attempted to dismiss suspicions of Chinese investment in the US, including the purchase by a Chinese company of the Waldorf Astoria hotel, where Li is staying during his visit.

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“You said this is a hotel owned by the Chinese government. I want to make a correction here – this is a hotel purchased by a private Chinese company,” Li said in response to a question about how to ease mistrust between the two countries.

“I heard that it is managed by an American company,” he added. “So I think that I am still staying at an American hotel.”

The Waldorf, which is known for hosting prominent guests and world leaders, was acquired by a Chinese company, Anbang Insurance Group, in 2014.

Although the hotel is still operated by Hilton Worldwide Holdings, concerns on whether it remains a secure location for official functions have been raised.

It has been a tradition for the US president to stay at the Waldorf during the UN General Assembly every September but President Barack Obama broke with the tradition last year, after Anbang’s purchase, and opted for another hotel. The change was reportedly due to security concerns over possible eavesdropping and hacking by China.

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Every Chinese leader has stayed at the hotel since the late leader Deng Xiaoping first visited the United States in 1974.

The hotel has become the main centre of activities for the Chinese delegation during their current US visit.

Li also provided assurance on China’s economic development, saying that the growth rate in the remaining quarter of this year would “keep the momentum of the first half of 2016”.

He reiterated that there was no basis for continued yuan depreciation and that China would not use devaluation of its currency to boost exports.

Referring to negotiations on a bilateral investment treaty between the two nations that have been overshadowed by disagreements about which sectors are deemed sensitive, Li said the two nations would eventually reach an agreement if they took a pragmatic approach.

“As our business sectors mature, we will gradually advance their opening up and widen access to more sectors for foreign investors,” Li said.

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“The door [to China’s market] will only open even wider, and it will never close.”

In an attempt to “prove China’s sincerity in opening up to the US market”, Li announced that China recently completed quarantine procedures on US imports of beef with bones, and would soon allow US beef to enter the Chinese market again.

US beef imports have been banned since 2003, with China citing concerns over the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as “mad cow” disease. The ban came after a cow with the disease was found in Washington state.

Li is scheduled to give a speech at the UN in New York on Wednesday to present China’s stance on global governance, before leaving for Canada and Cuba as part of his three-nation trip.

Yuan Zheng, an expert on Sino-US relations from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said harsh criticism and accusations towards China from Clinton and Trump would of course impact relations with China, but campaign words could not be regarded too seriously, as they do not necessarily turn into policies.

“One exception is when candidates speak too specifically on a topic, such as terminating China’s most favoured nation status, because this can be seen as a promise given by the presidential candidate. The elected person has huge pressure if he or she does not fulfil that,” Yuan said.