US-China tensions: really about trade? Hong Kong’s former leader CY Leung questions motives

Trade barriers are working ‘against market forces and human ingenuity’, the city’s former chief executive tells the SCMP’s China Conference in Kuala Lumpur

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 October, 2018, 10:57am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 October, 2018, 4:03pm

Hard questions must be asked of the real motives behind the United States’ escalating trade war with China, the former Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying has said.

The comments by the city’s former chief executive on Wednesday came as Washington signalled it was considering imposing further tariffs on Chinese goods.

In an opening address at the South China Morning Post’s China Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Leung said trade barriers were working “against market forces and human ingenuity”.

“Much of the trade friction between China and the US has stemmed ostensibly from the need on the part of the US to reduce its trade balance,” Leung said. But “what has not been discussed fully is that the US does not have the capacity to produce all the good it needs.”

Insights in store for Malaysia investors at the Post’s China Conference

He added: “This is where economists have openly questioned whether the root of recent tension is actually trade, and if it is indeed trade, they have also openly asked the US government not to conflate and confuse trade with other issues.”

Highlights from the China Conference:

Despite the tensions, Leung told the 800-strong audience at the Kuala Lumpur Hilton that he believed the rise of protectionism would be short lived.

“Economic integration or globalisation may have been put in reverse gear. But no vehicle in reverse gear can go fast,” Leung said.

Leung was speaking just hours after the US President Donald Trump suggested he would impose tariffs on US$267 billion worth of additional Chinese imports.

A previous round of US tariffs on nearly US$200 billion worth of Chinese goods that Washington imposed earlier this year prompted China to retaliate with tariffs on some US$60 billion worth of US goods.

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The International Monetary Fund this week cut its global economic forecast for 2018 and 2019 citing headwinds from the global trade war.

Leung’s speech on Wednesday morning kicked off the Post’s two-day forum themed on China-Southeast Asia ties.

Among other speakers are the Malaysian Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali, Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman and the president of the regional ride hailing app Grab, Ming Maa.

The Kuala Lumpur event is the first business forum hosted by the Post outside Hong Kong.