China ‘no threat’ to other nations, President Xi Jinping says, in thinly veiled message to US

In barely disguised dig at Donald Trump, Premier Li Keqiang says nations must also keep emotions in check if they want to avoid a trade war

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 March, 2018, 7:44pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 March, 2018, 11:30pm

China’s leaders delivered veiled jabs at US President Donald Trump at the close of the country’s biggest political event of the year, as trade tensions between the two nations continue to simmer.

Without naming the United States, Chinese President Xi Jinping hit out at those who perceived China’s rise as a threat, as the curtain fell on the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, the country’s legislature, in Beijing.

“Our development poses no threat to other countries,” he said in a speech, characterised by its strikingly nationalistic tone. “Only those who’re given to threatening other people will perceive other people as a threat.”

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Moments later, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang appeared to fire a warning to Trump to keep his emotions in check if he wanted to prevent a trade war breaking out between the world’s two biggest economies.

“A trade war does no good to either side, and no one will emerge a winner from a trade war,” he told reporters. “I hope that both sides can act rationally instead of being led by emotion.”

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The remarks by Li and Xi came amid growing trade tensions between Washington and Beijing. The former has made it clear it plans to reduce the US$375 billion trade surplus China has with the US by at least US$100 billion – the target being adjusted upwards after Trump said, in what was possibly an overemotional tweet, that he wanted the figure reduced by just US$1 billion.

The US has long complained that China engages in unfair trade practices, including nonreciprocal market access and intellectual property theft.

In January, Trump’s administration imposed steep tariffs on US imports of solar panels and washing machines in a move aimed at producers in China and South Korea. It is expected to level even more punitive trade measures against China in a US$60 billion package of annual tariffs by the end of the week, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

Despite Beijing sending its top economic aide Liu He to Washington earlier this month, the visit did little to de-escalate the trade crisis. Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s decision to put more hawkish policymakers in charge of foreign and economic policy – including the elevation of former Central Intelligence Agency chief Mike Pompeo to secretary of state – is unlikely to make matters easier.

Nonetheless, Li urged the two countries to stop butting heads on trade, saying China would take various steps to further open up its economy and ease tensions. These included providing better protection for intellectual property rights and the elimination of forced technology transfers, two of the biggest bones of contention for the US business community.

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“We believe these will bring about opportunities for American businesses,” the premier said. “Meanwhile, we hope the US eases its restrictions concerning the export of hi-tech and high value-added goods to China.”

Li said also that China did not want to maintain a large trade surplus with the US, and instead preferred “balanced trade” relations. Bilateral trade between the countries reached US$580 billion last year.

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As the spectre of a trade war looms, some in the US have raised concerns that China could leverage the US$3 trillion worth of American debt it holds through it foreign exchange reserves.

Li sought to play down any such fears, however, insisting that China would remain a “responsible, long-term investor”.

“China makes diversified investments of its foreign exchange reserves on the basis of market principles,” he said. “A stable China-US relationship is in the interests of both countries and the whole world.”