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Sino-US relations

Beijing’s patience tested by ‘most protectionist’ comment from Ross

Donald Trump’s pick for commerce secretary fires latest salvo at China

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 January, 2017, 11:54pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 January, 2017, 12:31am

In the latest criticism targeting Beijing from US president-elect Donald Trump’s team, Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary nominee, branded China the “most protectionist” major economy.

But mainland analysts said Beijing should avoid being drawn into making an immediate reaction as the comments were merely aimed at testing China’s bottom line.

Ross, 79, a billionaire private-equity investor, told Congress in confirmation testimony that America’s trade partners should practise “fair trade”, echoing Trump’s earlier statements that the US would take a tougher stance against China.

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“We should not put up with malicious trading activities, state-owned enterprises or subsidised production,” he told the Senate Commerce Committee which will vote on his nomination.

Foreign business groups operating in China have long complained of discrimination, vague regulations that are selectively enforced and Beijing’s favouring of state-owned enterprises.

He Weiwen, a former diplomat, said China faced challenges in treating foreign companies fairly and it would take time to restore their confidence.

Lester Ross, head of the policy committee at the American Chamber of Commerce in China said China was less dependent on foreign expertise than before and some businesses felt China was less welcoming.

“What we are asking for here is not a welcome or some extra benefits. What we are asking for is level playing field and fairness,” he said.

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Trump has nominated Peter Navarro, a well-known hardline China critic, to lead the White House National Trade Council, while Robert Lighthizer has been picked to act as US trade representative.

Lighthizer was previously deputy trade representative during the Reagan administration in the 1980s and helped craft policies that curbed Japan’s exports to the US in the 1980s.

“The nominations and their remarks have already signalled a tougher trade policy approach against China under Trump’s presidency,” said He, who was economic and commercial counsellor at the Chinese consulate general in New York and San Francisco.

“China has its toolbox to counter extreme trade policies, but we have very little knowledge of Trump and we must collect any relevant information at any time,” said He.