BEIJING: Chinese Premier Li Keqiang railed against “unilateralism” on Wednesday in a veiled allusion to the trade fight with the United States, and threw his weight behind further opening of the world’s second largest economy.
Speaking at the summer session of the World Economic Forum in the eastern city of Tianjin, Li said problems must be worked out through consultations, a day after China and the US swapped tit-for-tat tariffs.
“It is essential that we uphold the basic principles of multilateralism and free trade,” Li said in his speech at the “summer Davos”.
“For any existing problems they need to be worked out through consultation,” Li said, adding that “unilateralism” does not offer solutions.
The trade war between the world’s two biggest economies deepened Monday when Donald Trump announced he would push ahead with tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods, on top of $50 billion already targeted. Once the latest measures are imposed next week, Washington will have placed levies on around half its imports from China.
After Beijing decided to retaliate Tuesday with duties on $60 billion in American products, Trump accused China of seeking to influence midterm congressional elections by taking aim at his political base.
The tariffs follow a recent invitation from Treasury Secretary Mnuchin to hold talks with his Chinese counterpart but Beijing warned Tuesday that the latest developments had led to “uncertainty”.
China’s yuan, also known as the renminbi, has steadily depreciated this year, causing Trump to accuse Beijing of deliberately manipulating the currency to offset the new tariffs.
Li denied the claim, saying “there is no evidence” of that happening.
“For China, depreciation holds more negatives than positives,” he said. “China will not use renminbi depreciation to stimulate exports.”
– ‘Deepen reform’ –
Since coming to power Trump has pursued Beijing, complaining about its huge trade surplus with the US, accusing Chinese companies stealing American intellectual property and forcing US firms to transfer technology to gain market access.
Experts say IP protection has been improving in China, though some members of business associations from the US and Europe say they still have to transfer technology to operate.
“Any theft of IP from a Chinese company or a foreign company will be dealt with seriously with doubled, tripled and unaffordable penalties so all innovators will be fully assured in making innovations,” Li said.
China’s economy continues its fast pace of growth and its potential remains vast, Li said, adding the pool was big enough for all companies to compete in.
Still, he acknowledged China faced problems, like infrastructure investment levels falling to record lows and external trade friction.
But China will not resort to large scale stimulus to prop up the economy, he pledged.
“Over the past 40 years, China’s economy has always been climbing over hurdles and persisting in the face of difficulties to move forward,” Li said.
“As long as we overcome them … in the future we will be able to develop even better.”
The promised opening up of the economy also would pick up, with Li saying China will continue to reduce tariff rates and unreasonable fee burdens. “We will continue to deepen comprehensive reform,” he said.
While Beijing has long proclaimed itself the pillar of globalisation and free trade, foreign companies operating in China say such lofty words are far from reality.
But Li said all firms enjoyed a level playing field, adding: “Chinese and foreign companies, as long as they are registered, they will be treated equally without discrimination.”