Xi Jinping says ‘China can come out of trade war in better shape than US’
British ambassador relays comments made by Chinese president earlier this year in which he expressed confidence in country’s resilience
President Xi Jinping has told the British ambassador to China that the Communist Party has “the levers and the country had the resilience” to come out of a trade war in better shape than the United States.
The remarks, made at a dinner, were revealed by Barbara Woodward, Britain’s ambassador to China, and come as Beijing and Washington have held a series of talks aimed at preventing a trade war.
The disputes include US complaints about alleged theft of American intellectual property and China’s massive trade surplus with America, which the Trump administration says has been created by unfair trading practices.
“I was at this small dinner with Xi Jinping earlier this year and he was in studied and quite thoughtful mode about the potential trade war,” Woodward said during a speech at the University of Oxford on Tuesday.
“He said everyone would lose out, but he felt that the party had the levers and the country had the resilience to come out the other side, in better shape than the US,” Woodward said.
She added that while Xi was “naturally” seeking to influence as well as inform in his comments, her sense was that “he believed what he was saying”.
Xi’s speech in April about achieving technological independence from the US, Woodward said, was “cut from similar cloth”.
The UK envoy described China as politically, economically and globally confident, but added: “Overconfident, perhaps.”
“I think China underestimated the level of frustration that their state capitalist model was building up in different developed markets and in developing markets before that,” she said.
China’s confidence resulted in what Woodward said was the country’s first breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration over Hong Kong.
She did not elaborate, but the British government strongly criticised Chinese law enforcement officers for “kidnapping” booksellers in 2015 who were physically in Hong Kong but accused of offences on the mainland.
She also questioned whether other countries would benefit from Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative aimed at developing trade and infrastructure ties between China, Central Asia and beyond.
“The proof of the pudding, of course, will be in the eating. And the pudding without recipe or ingredients like the ‘community of common destiny’ or ‘a shared future of mankind’ or ‘a new model of international relations’ rightly gives us pause,” she said.
Woodward said there were areas where China and Britain could cooperate as the UK negotiates its exit from the European Union. These include climate change, intellectual property and medicine.
Woodward insisted, however, that Britain would not kowtow to China on all issues in the future, nor automatically side with the United States on international issues.
“In blunt terms, the UK is not simply going to subcontract its foreign policies to the United States or to China,” Woodward said.
Woodward made no mention of human rights issues in her speech, including the case of Liu Xia, the widow of the rights activist and late Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.
She has been held under house arrest since 2010, but has never been charged with any offence. Germany has demanded the Beijing authorities release her.