China economy
Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
China and the United States agreed a 90-day trade war truce on December 1. Photo: Reuters

Spider-Man quoted as China warns United States ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ in trade war

  • Beijing’s ambassador to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Zhang Xiangchen, reminds US of the need to be accountable in trade affairs
  • American counterpart Dennis Shea says global trade environment ‘heavily skewed’ in favour of China

China and the United States clashed again over their respective trade policies on Monday at a time the two countries are trying to iron out their differences so further American tariffs are not imposed on Chinese goods.

Dennis Shea, the US ambassador to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), said criticism from China about the US’s “unilateralist and protectionist” approach to trade was unwarranted.

He also insisted the US wants to reform the global trading system to make it fairer for American citizens and defended their long role in supporting that system for seven decades, at the WTO and its predecessors.

“The United States is raising serious concerns with the functioning and direction of this important institution, and the fundamental challenge posed by China’s state-led, mercantilist approach to the economy and trade,” Shea said during closed-door remarks during the WTO’s 14th and latest regular “trade policy review” of the United States.

He said the global trade environment was “heavily skewed” in favour of China.

China’s ambassador to the World Trade Organisation Zhang Xiangchen and American counterpart Dennis Shea. Photo: Reuters

The US and China are locked in a trade war stand-off, although US President Donald Trump and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping agreed this month to postpone more US tariff hikes on Chinese goods for 90 days while negotiations continue.

Shea’s Chinese counterpart at the WTO, Zhang Xiangchen, drew upon lessons from the Spider-Man films to remind the US of the need to be accountable in trade affairs, saying: “‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ And Spider-Man certainly lived up to that.”

Zhang Xiangchen reprimanded the US over tariffs and blocking appointments to the WTO’s appeals body, which could stop functioning by December next year because a term expiration would reduce its membership below the minimum of three people.

He also said Trump’s tariff increases on steel and aluminium products were “based on dubious national security concerns” and blasted US efforts to put WTO’s appeals body “in paralysis.”

“Whether it is a small family or an international organisation, a top dog should act like a top dog,” Zhang said, in an apparent allusion to the United States.

“It cannot only see a narrow spectrum of its own self-interest, and it certainly should not do whatever it wishes at the sacrifice of the others.”

Marc Vanheukelen, the European Union’s ambassador to the WTO, noted how in 2016, at the last review of the US, he had hoped that then President-elect Trump’s “protectionist rhetoric would end” after he took office.

“Today, unfortunately, rhetoric has turned into reality and the repercussions of tariffs and other restrictions are being felt at the heart of this organisation, and more generally in global growth prospects,” he said.

“The multilateral trading system is in a deep crisis and the United States is at its epicentre for a number of reasons.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: WTO env oys clash on trade p o licies