Wang Qishan

China is ready to talk to resolve US trade war, says Vice-President Wang Qishan

  • The two countries ‘wish to expand cooperation’ and Beijing is prepared to ‘push for a proposal acceptable to both sides’
  • Tuesday’s speech strikes similar themes to those in Xi Jinping’s address a day earlier
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2018, 9:50am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2018, 11:23pm

China is ready to engage with the US to resolve their months-long trade war, Vice-President Wang Qishan said at a new economic forum in Singapore hosted by US billionaire Michael Bloomberg.

Wang, widely reputed to be a “firefighter” and one of President Xi Jinping’s most trusted allies, pushed back against Washington’s “America first” trade policies in a nearly 20-minute keynote address on Tuesday at the newly inaugurated Bloomberg New Economy Forum, without making reference to US President Donald Trump by name.

At the same time, he promoted a vision of globalisation that was an echo of Xi a day earlier in Shanghai at a government-sponsored import fair, in another effort by Beijing to quell global scepticism about its resolve to adopt economic reforms.

Chinese vice-president Wang Qishan unmoved by Bloomberg’s sweet talk

“China and the US both wish to expand cooperation on the economy and trade,” he said at the ballroom of the Capella Resort on Singapore’s Sentosa Island.

“The Chinese side is ready to have discussions with the US on issues of mutual concern to push for a proposal acceptable to both sides to resolve their economic and trade issues.”

He said China and the US needed to cooperate closely to resolve the problems facing the world, and that economic globalisation would move forward despite twists and turns.

“Negativity and anger are not the way to address the problems that have emerged from globalisation, nor will barriers and disputes help solve one’s own problems; instead, they will only exacerbate global market turbulence,” Wang said.

He added that China needed to stay “calm and sober-minded”, invoking the country’s history of oppression by “imperialist powers”.

“To understand the history of [China] in the past 70 years, one has to go back to the year 1840 when China was bullied and oppressed by imperialist powers,” he said.

“Since then, the unyielding Chinese people have been fighting to once again stand on their feet and achieve prosperity and strength.”

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His remarks at the inaugural forum – which brought together 400 business leaders to rival the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland – came ahead of a proposed meeting between Trump and Xi at the G20 summit in Argentina later this month.

Analysts said a meeting between the two heads of state could mark a turning point in the months-long trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies – relief that businesses and markets are eager to see.

It also comes on the heels of Xi’s pledges on Monday at this week’s China International Import Expo in Shanghai, where the Chinese leader vowed to buy US$40 trillion in goods and services over the next 15 years.

Xi Jinping makes fresh promises to open China’s economy and boost imports

Without mentioning Trump or their intensifying trade war directly, Xi promised to defend free trade, a commitment critics say the world has grown weary of hearing without substantive action.

The matching message from Wang at the two-day event in Singapore sought to amplify China’s assurances that it will improve its lopsided market access for foreign companies, a longstanding complaint from the US and others, analysts say.

“Two Chinese leaders delivering these messages domestically and internationally is meant as a clear signal to the world,” said Wei Zongyou, an international studies professor at Fudan University in Shanghai. “China wants to showcase a determination to open up its doors and welcome foreign companies to the country, to work with others to promote the development of global free trade.”

Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute at the University of London, said it was expected that Wang would echo Xi in underlining that China was “open to business and open to the world without giving details or a time frame”.

“This would be part of a Chinese effort to seize the initiative to project China as a sponsor of globalisation in contrast to Trump being an enemy,” he said.

Zhang Xiaoqiang, permanent vice-chairman and chief executive officer of the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges, said Wang conveyed China’s stance on its own development and the China-US relationship.

“He talked a lot about history ... in particular, he said all rejuvenation in human history only meant there was a glorious past, in which all contained profound meanings,” Zhang said.

Wang arrived in Singapore on Monday afternoon accompanied by a Chinese delegation of around 50 government and business representatives. That night, he attended a private dinner hosted by Bloomberg, alongside big names from the US, including former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, former treasury secretary Henry Paulson, former chair of the Federal Reserve Janet Yellen, and Trump’s former top economic adviser Gary Cohn.

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Others at the dinner included Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Hong Kong’s former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, founder and chairman of Hillhouse Capital Management Zhang Lei, ExxonMobil chairman and chief executive Darren Woods, and FedEx chairman and chief executive Frederick Smith.

Wang’s visit to Singapore marks his third overseas trip since the 69-year-old was appointed to the vice-presidency in March – a radical move by Xi that shattered retirement age norms – after which he was made a member of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission that Xi heads.

It follows an October tour to the Middle East, where Wang met leaders from Israel, Palestine, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

The New Economy Forum was originally set to take place in Beijing, but was moved to Singapore in the midst of the ongoing US-China trade war. Its dates also clashed with the Shanghai import fair, which Beijing designated one of its priority events of the year.

The forum has branded itself as the next big elite gathering, one that differentiates from high-profile powwows such as Davos by aiming to focus on emerging economies in Asia. Wang’s attendance as a keynote speaker was announced as late as last Wednesday.

Additional reporting by Orange Wang