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China-US relations

Time for US President Donald Trump to think outside the zero-sum trade war box, says Chinese economist

But US delegation says politicians across the spectrum share fears about Chinese practices

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 August, 2018, 10:02pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 August, 2018, 10:03pm

US President Donald Trump is wrong to target China as the United States’ biggest threat and greatest trade rival, a former top Chinese official told a visiting US delegation in a heated exchange highlighting the gulf in trust between the warring economies.

But the group of US congressional aides and non-profit staff said Beijing would be mistaken if it thought that Trump was alone in his concerns about China’s trade practices, according to a transcript of the meeting published on Wednesday by the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges, a think tank under the National Development and Reform Commission, the country’s economic planner.

In the meeting, Chen Wenling, former director of the State Council Research Office and now the think tank’s chief economist, said she understood Trump’s concerns but development was not a zero-sum game.

“I appreciate that President Trump wants to make the US great again and keep the US on top,” the transcript quoted Chen as saying, without specifying when the meeting took place.

“But … he does not really understand the rules of development in human, economic and foreign policy. A country cannot stay number one by suppressing the development of others. This is fundamentally wrong.”

Senior Chinese delegation to visit US for trade war talks as ‘sides remain far apart’

Trump has accused Beijing of using unfair market practices to amass a huge trade surplus and advance its own hi-tech industries at the expense of the West.

After months of trade talks on the issue ended in a stalemate, the US administration imposed tariffs on US$34 billion in Chinese goods last month, with more in the pipeline. China responded with similar duties on US products.

Chen sought to dismiss the claims about unfair market tactics by highlighting the wide gap between China and the US in a range of areas, including the military.

“The United States has the greatest number of nuclear warheads, is the world’s top arms seller and his the biggest military budget. The US has spent more than four times as much as China on the military,” she said.

Chen also sought to frame China as an economic saviour, saying that a 4 trillion yuan stimulus package launched in 2008 brought the world – including the US – back from the brink of economic collapse. While admitting that it had led to overcapacity in some sectors, particularly steel, she said Trump’s perception of China as a threat was a “huge misunderstanding”.

“I think, if Trump and the policymakers around him could change their thinking, it would be a different outcome,” she said.

Communist Party raises alarm over commerce ministry brain drain as China faces trade war

But the American visitors – who included Joshua Sheinkman, staff director for US Senator Ron Wyden, and Winston Nyo, vice-president of the Las Vegas-based non-profit US-China Transpacific Foundation – appeared unconvinced, challenging Chen on Beijing’s muscle-flexing in the contested South China Sea, media censorship and Beijing’s trade practices, according to the transcript.

One unidentified member of the delegation was quoted as saying there was a “rare common understanding” between the Democrats and Republicans in the US congress that China’s investment and trade practices had hampered US interests.

While high-level negotiations between the two countries have been suspended, talks have continued among lower-level officials and think tanks.

Beijing also said on Thursday said that it would hold a new round of trade talks with the US in Washington later this month – while promising to fight on to the end.