Donald Trump ally John Thornton briefs China’s trade war negotiator Vice-Premier Liu He in Beijing
Thornton outlines Washington’s thinking to annual meeting of Chinese sovereign wealth fund’s international advisory board
One of US President Donald Trump’s allies was among the business heavyweights in Beijing at a closed-door meeting chaired by China’s point man on trade war talks, Vice-Premier Liu He, the South China Morning Post has learned.
John Thornton, chairman of the liberal-centrist Brookings Institution think tank and former president of investment bank Goldman Sachs, outlined some of Washington’s thinking on the escalating trade war on Tuesday at a meeting of the international advisory board of China’s sovereign wealth fund, China Investment Corp (CIC).
The details of Thornton’s comments at the gathering at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse were not revealed.
But state news agency Xinhua quoted Liu as telling the meeting that China would press ahead on market reform, globalisation and multilateral trade, no matter what the external circumstances were.
Watch: The origins and impact of the US-China trade war
The vice-premier also said China’s per capita gross domestic product was approaching US$10,000, signalling the growth of a robust domestic market, the report said. Last year, the country’s per capita GDP was US$8,830.
While little progress has been made in official trade talks, there are signs that representatives from both sides are still meeting to find ways to lower tensions.
Matthew Funaiole, a fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies who was not at the meeting, said both sides might be trying to de-escalate the conflict.
“While the trade dispute certainly complicates relations between the US and China, it is important to remember that a lot of work goes into managing the day-to-day interactions between the world’s two biggest economies,” Funaiole said.
“The dispute hasn’t halted relations between the two powers, and efforts by both sides to work with another could be significant if leaders in both capitals are working to prevent tensions from further escalating.”
Last week, a Chinese delegation led by Vice-Minister of Commerce Wang Shouwen returned to Beijing from Washington after working-level talks hosted by the US Treasury’s undersecretary of international affairs, David Malpass, yielded no advances.
Trump followed up on Monday by saying now was “not the right time to talk” to China about the trade war.
The first shot of the trade war was fired on July 6 when the US imposed a 25 per cent tariff on US$34 billion worth of Chinese products. China hit back with similar tariffs on American goods and Trump has since threatened to put additional levies on up to US$500 billion of Chinese products.
China-US relations are understood to have dominated the two-day annual CIC meeting which ended on Tuesday.
Participants told the meeting that unilateralism and protectionism in trade had fuelled uncertainty in the global economy and could lead to disastrous consequences. They urged China to advance market reform and further open its doors to foreign investors.
The meeting also saw the appointment or reappointment of 13 members of the CIC’s international advisory council until 2020, but only 10 of them were at the gathering.
The CIC created an international advisory council in 2007 to provide insight on macroeconomic and financial issues to help the wealth fund map out its overseas strategies.
During the meeting, China’s former central bank governor, Zhou Xiaochuan, replaced former vice-premier Zeng Peiyan as an advisory board member, while former Hong Kong Monetary Authority chief Joseph Yam Chi-kwong stepped down.
Other members to be reappointed were MTR Corp chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang and ex-Securities and Futures Commission head Andrew Sheng Len-tao.
The board also includes Knut Kjaer, former CEO of Norges Bank Investment Management, and BNP Paribas chairman Jean Lemierre.
Additional reporting by Lee Jeong-ho