Trade war of words breaks out at China conference as US congressmen call out Beijing

Two US congressmen use international economic forum in China to call out Beijing to take action to end trade dispute with US

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2018, 4:30pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 September, 2018, 6:53am

A war of words broke out at the World Economic Forum conference in Tianjin, northeastern China, on Wednesday, when two US Republican congressmen called out China’s commitments to free and fair trade just minutes after Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s keynote speech.

Darrell Issa, from California, and Todd Rokita, of Indiana, called on China to stop “stealing and cheating” and urged the government to take timely actions that would allow a ceasefire in the trade war with the United States.

Their ad hoc press conference on the sidelines of the forum was not on the official schedule and attendees received an email during Li’s speech to say it would occur less than 30 minutes after the premier’s address.

The two congressmen voiced strong support for the Trump administration’s trade confrontation with China.

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“Every action the US has done is measured and reasonable” and was based on “sound evidence”, Rokita said.

In his speech, Li talked of China’s commitment to improving intellectual property rights and ensuring a level playing field for foreign companies operating in China.

Li promoted China’s defence of globalisation and free trade and promised to continue to open the Chinese market to foreign investment.

The US administration has accused China of violating US companies’ intellectual property rights and stealing American technology and trade secrets, which hurt the US economy and cost jobs.

China has dismissed the accusations and stood firm against US pressure.

Both countries have engaged in a series of retaliatory moves, imposing 25 per cent tariffs on US$50 billion worth of each other’s imports. In a further escalation this week, the US announced it would impose 10 per cent tariffs on an additional US$200 billion worth of Chinese products from September 24, with the tariff rate increasing to 25 per cent on January 1 next year unless China makes concessions. China responded by imposing tariffs on US$60 billion worth of US goods.

Issa said Li’s comments on protecting intellectual property rights and treating foreign companies equally were “encouraging but not new”.

“Talk is cheap. Actions are what matter,” Rokita added.

“What we are doing is demanding action and demanding that the stealing and cheating stop.”

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“There are hundreds of [intellectual property] cases in China that are decades old, years and years old, [but they] simply never get a day for a trial because if they did, they would have to admit that China has done wrong,” Issa said.

“So for the premier to keep his promise, one thing he has to do is to see those cases move [forward] in a timely fashion.”

Rokita said he liked the position the US was taking. “I hope the two countries will come to the table and hope actions follow words,” he said.

Issa said the success of negotiations with Mexico to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement was “a good example” for how China could address the trade dispute and reach a “free and fair” trade deal with the US.

Issa also said China had failed to keep its commitments made during its accession to the World Trade Organisation, making it doubtful that the multilateral trade body could effectively help solve the dispute between Washington and Beijing.