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China-US relations

Chinese and American people will save relations despite trade war and South China Sea threats, says ambassador to US Cui Tiankai

  • ‘Enough of trade war threats, strategic rivalry, sabre rattling in the South China Sea,’ says Cui Tiankai in speech in Washington
  • Rivalry and confrontation are prevailing but ordinary people will turn the tide, he suggests
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 October, 2018, 12:08pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 October, 2018, 11:46pm

China’s ambassador to the US said on Tuesday that the “goodwill” and “wisdom” of the Chinese and American people would carry the countries through a tense period in their relations, and that “we have heard enough” of trade war threats and territorial sabre rattling.

Speaking weeks before a highly anticipated face-to-face meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Argentina, Cui Tiankai said the US-China relationship, which will mark its 40th anniversary next January, “has made great strides, while also it has had its share of setbacks”.

“It looks as if rivalry and confrontation became the prevailing aspect of our path ahead,” said Cui, speaking during a trade war in which both countries have slapped punitive tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of imports.

“When our relations are at a low ebb, it is always our people who will firmly support the bonds and friendship, and turn the tide of the China-US relations,” he said at an event held in Washington by the China General Chamber of Commerce-USA, a non-profit organisation that represents Chinese businesses in the US.

In a speech that made no direct mention of Trump or his government, Cui expressed confidence in the capacity of people-to-people friendship, rather than political wrestling, to carry the US-China relationship forward.

China’s US ambassador Cui Tiankai says Beijing confused over who speaks for Trump on trade

“The ordinary and great people of China and the United States are there doing their part,” he said, “showing their goodwill, wisdom and magnanimity, and paving the path forward for our relations.”

According to research by the Pew Research Centre, which monitors changing attitudes around the world, almost half of Americans held unfavourable views of China in 2017. Figures from the previous year, the most recent data available, showed 44 per cent of Chinese respondents held unfavourable views of the US.

Over the past year, said Cui, “we have heard enough of trade war threats, assertions about strategic rivalry, sabre rattling in the South China Sea, and even unfounded accusations against Chinese students and scholars”.

The ambassador made no specific remarks about the current trade stand-off between the US and China. On Monday, Trump repeated his assertion that China was not “not ready” to strike a deal to bring an end to the costly dispute.

‘It’s already a problem, not a benefit’: Chinese ambassador to US says cutting trade imbalance is in China’s interest too

As the president and his administration have increased rhetoric against China in recent weeks, including accusations of election interference and state-led forced technology transfer targeted at US businesses, Cui has assumed an unusually public role in defending his government’s policies and launching his own direct critiques of the US’ approach to the relationship.

Cui, who has served as China’s representative to the US since 2013, told NPR (National Public Radio) in the US earlier this month that resolution of the trade war was being thwarted by the ever-changing position of US negotiators.

“We don’t know exactly what the US would want as priorities,” he told the radio broadcaster, adding that, in some cases, tentative agreements between the two sides had been undone overnight. “This is very confusing, and this is making things very difficult.”

Cui reiterated his remarks in a later interview with Fox News, saying he had no idea whether Trump’s ear was held by hardliners or moderates when it came to negotiating with China.

China’s ambassador talks tough on trade, says US officials ‘don’t have sufficient common sense’

Indeed, mixed messages have become a recurring feature of the administration’s approach to China during the trade war, including from the president, who has on a number of occasions made discouraging remarks about the prospect of resolution through dialogue, including talks proposed at the invitation of the US Treasury.

Trump also threatened on numerous occasions to put punitive tariffs on the entirety of Chinese imports to the US if Beijing enacted retaliatory measures in response to Washington’s latest round of duties on US$200 billion of Chinese goods. Beijing did retaliate, as expected, yet the Trump administration did not follow through on the president’s threats.

Those threats were given new life this week when three unnamed sources were cited by Bloomberg as confirming that the Trump administration would go through with tariffs on the remaining US$260 billion of imports from China if upcoming talks between the two countries’ leaders did not go well.

Meeting between Xi Jinping and Donald Trump would play ‘key role’ in easing tensions

A senior Chinese diplomatic source said on Tuesday that the two presidents had “agreed to meet” on the sidelines of the G20 in Buenos Aires, but would not offer details on the agenda of those discussions.

Additional reporting by Robert Delaney