Chinese President Xi Jinping condemns trade barriers amid tariff row with the US

Xi takes aim at ‘protectionism, isolationism and populism’ at gathering of foreign business executives

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 June, 2018, 11:38am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 June, 2018, 11:38am

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday lambasted “protectionism, isolationism and populism” and again vowed to open up Asia’s largest economy, as China faces an escalating trade dispute with the United States.

Xi told a gathering of foreign business executives that after “signs of stability and improvement in the world economy” last year, “we must also stay vigilant because ... we have seen a surge of trade protectionism, isolationism and populism”.

The leaders of mining giant BHP Billiton, German carmaker Volkswagen and British conglomerate Swire were at the meeting, according to images from Chinese state television.

Trade relations between Beijing and Washington risk descending into all-out conflict, with US President Donald Trump threatening to impose tariffs on almost all Chinese exports to the US.

Earlier on Thursday, China’s commerce ministry accused the US of abusing tariffs to trigger a trade war.

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Without mentioning the Trump administration, Xi condemned “cold war mentalities and zero-sum games” where exporting countries are seen as the only winners of trade exchanges.

“The peace and development of the world faces more and more severe challenges,” Xi cautioned.

China’s head of state also repeated his promises of economic openness made in April at the Boao Forum for Asia, the “Chinese Davos”, where he promised to accelerate the opening up of the Chinese financial sector.

Xi called on nations to “abandon those cold war mentalities and zero-sum games. We need to focus on win-win cooperation to build a new type of international relations.”

He also stressed that foreign capital had played an active and important role in China’s economic development and the process of deepening reform.

“Over the past 40 years, China’s economic development has been achieved thanks to opening up. In the future, China’s high-quality economic development must be pursued with even greater opening up,” Xinhua quoted Xi as saying.

“China’s door to the outside world will open even wider, rather than being closed,” he said. “China will continue to greatly ease market access, create a more favourable environment for investors, strengthen the protection of intellectual property rights and expand imports to create a more relaxed and orderly environment for domestic and foreign entrepreneurs to invest and start businesses in China.”

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In spite of Beijing’s conciliatory tone, Western companies complain about unfulfilled pledges and a tough business climate in the country due to factors such as internet censorship and unfavourable regulations.

In a survey released on Wednesday by the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, nearly half of the European firms in the poll said it had become “more difficult” to do business in the past 12 months.

And a fifth said they have been victims of forced technology transfers, a practice denounced fiercely by Washington as it carries out an investigation on the issue while threatening tariffs in retaliation.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg