Xi Jinping urges G20 to protect trade system as showdown with Donald Trump looms

  • The Chinese president called for the ‘urgent’ maintenance and development of an open world economy and vowed China would help hold the G20 together
  • He did not mention America or the trade war, but his remarks come a day before he is to meet with the US president to discuss a possible ceasefire
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 December, 2018, 7:55am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 December, 2018, 11:29pm

Chinese President Xi Jinping called on the G20 nations to resist protectionism and maintain a multilateral trade system, one day before a high-stakes working dinner with US President Donald Trump that could see the two men halting or even ending their trade war.

In his speech to the G20 leaders’ summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Friday, Xi said the world economy was at a historic crossroads and urged the global major economies to “demonstrate courage” to put world economy “on the right track”.

“Five years ago, when I first attended the G20 leaders’ summit, I called for the maintenance and development of an open world economy,” Xi said, according to a transcript of his speech. “Now, this task is even more urgent” because trade protectionist measures were on the rise and the 2018 global commodity trade turnover was expected to shrink, he said.

The speech marked the latest effort by Xi to paint China as a defender of the global trade system at a time when Washington is accusing the country of engaging in unfair trade practices, stealing trade secrets, and subsidising state-owned enterprises at the cost of other countries.

In addition to the speech, Xi and the leaders of major developing economies Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa also called for open international trade and a strengthening of the World Trade Organisation.

“The spirit and rules of the WTO run counter to unilateral and protectionist measures,” they said. “We call on all members to oppose such WTO-inconsistent measures, stand by their commitments undertaken in the WTO.”

In a separate meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Xi said negotiations for two regional trade pacts – the 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the trilateral free-trade deal between China, Japan and South Korea – should be sped up.

Xi and Trump are scheduled to have a dinner on Saturday evening to talk about their trade differences and potentially call a ceasefire in the ongoing trade war between the two countries. Washington plans to raise import tariffs on US$200 billion worth of Chinese products from 10 per cent to 25 per cent from January if it cannot come to terms with Beijing.

Xi did not mention the US or the trade war in his speech.

The Chinese leader said that Beijing wanted to hold the G20 nations together – a remark that came despite the deep divide between the US and China. “The spirit of partnership is the most valuable asset of the G20,” Xi said. “No matter what difficulties we’ve encountered, G20 members should unite together to overcome them.”

Wilbur Ross, US commerce secretary, left out of G20 activities

Host country Argentina was caught between the two powers on Friday when the White House claimed that Buenos Aires agreed with Washington that China’s trade policies were “predatory”.

An Argentine official quickly denied the claims to the South China Morning Post , saying that Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ remarks only “reflected the person’s own view”.

While the US, Canada and Mexico held a signing ceremony of their new trade pact on the sidelines of the G20 summit, China and France held a joint press conference to show their commitment to reducing climate change. The Trump administration announced last year its intention to pull out of the Paris Accord, which lays out non-binding targets set by each ratifying country for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

The US is one of the accord’s 147 signatories, and would be the first to back out.

Xi stressed that Beijing supported “necessary reforms” to the World Trade Organisation but that the reforms should protect “interests” of developing countries. China defines itself as a developing country that should be entitled to better treatment in global trade than more developed countries.

Inside the Trump trade team that will join his G20 meeting with Xi

In addition, Xi said that richer countries should “pay more attention” to possible impacts on emerging markets and developing countries in their domestic fiscal and monetary policies.

Xi also said that his country would continue to “open up”, protect intellectual property rights and encourage fair play – all of which have been identified as problems by the US government.