China’s premier Li Keqiang has cautioned Donald Trump against locking horns with Beijing over trade ahead of a hotly anticipated meeting between the United States president and Chinese leader Xi Jinping next month.
Xi and Trump, who has labelled Beijing a US “enemy” and threatened to slap hefty tariffs on Chinese imports, are widely expected to hold a two-day summit at Trump’s exclusive Mar-a-Lago resort on 6-7 April.
The world’s two most powerful men face a complex and potentially acrimonious range of discussions, including the escalating crisis on the Korean peninsular, the deployment of a controversial US missile defence system in South Korea and the thorny trade relationship between the US and China.
Speaking on Wednesday on the final day of the national people’s congress, China’s annual rubber-stamp parliament, Li stopped short of confirming the Trump-Xi summit saying only that Chinese and American diplomats were working towards a face-to-face meeting.
The Chinese premier said his country’s leadership now felt optimistic that the future of US-China relations was “bright”.
“This relationship is crucial not just for China and the US but also for regional and global peace and security,” he said.
But Li warned the White House that it would be ill-advised to kick off a trade war with Beijing.
“We don’t want to see any trade war breaking out,” Li told journalists at a heavily-scripted press conference in the Great Hall of the People marking the end of the two-week political summit. “That would not make trade fairer.”
Foreign companies stood to lose the most from any such battle between the world’s two largest economies, Li warned.
Before his shock election Trump repeatedly signalled he would take a hard-line with Beijing on issues ranging from trade to the South China Sea.
He has accused Beijing of being the world’s greatest currency manipulator and during his campaign vowed to slap 45% tariffs on Chinese imports, a move China has warned would trigger a damaging trade war.
Several senior members of Trump’s team, including strategic advisor Steve Bannon and the head of the newly created national trade council, Peter Navarro, are known for their hostility to China.
In his campaign manifesto, Make America Great Again, Trump wrote: “We need to pay special attention to the Chinese. Their days of undercutting us with protectionist policies and cyber-theft are over.”
However, in recent weeks Trump’s tone has mellowed following a series of exchanges between Chinese officials and his team, including a visit to the Chinese embassy in Washington by his daughter Ivanka Trump and Mandarin-learning granddaughter.
Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is understood to have emerged as a key interlocutor for the Chinese, maintaining regular contact with Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador in Washington.
During an “extremely cordial” phone call with Xi last month Trump indicated that he would not challenge Beijing over Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China claims as its own.
Even so uncertainty continues to surround Trump’s precise plans for the relationship with Beijing.
Navarro, Trump’s commerce chief, told the New York Times the White House’s China policy remained “top secret”.
Speaking on Wednesday, Li said it was time for the two countries to sit down and discuss their differences. Problems that could not be solved should be shelved, he said.
“China hopes that no matter what bumps this relationship may encounter it will continue to forge in the right direction,” Li added.
Source: The Guardian