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China ready to work on acceptable solution for US-China trade war: Vice President Wang Qishan

Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan delivers a speech at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum on November 6. Photo: AFP

A day after Chinese President Xi Jinping took a swipe at trade rival US President Donald Trump for his protectionist policies, his right-hand man took a more conciliatory stance at a global forum of top thinkers and business leaders, hinting the US-China trade stand-off should come to an end.

In his keynote speech at the first Bloomberg New Economy Forum at the Capella Singapore on Tuesday morning, Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan was forceful in denouncing trade unilateralism, while espousing the importance of settling any disputes through a rules-based system.

"We are facing the challenge of rising populism and unilateralism," said Wang, often referred to as China's former anti-corruption czar and one of the country's best-known economic reformers.

Rapid changes that come with economic globalization have "split some countries and societies", with "right-leaning populism" manifesting in politics and leading to 'unilateral policies" against globalization.

The world today faces many problems that require close cooperation between the US and China, he said, emphasizing that both sides will gain from working together and lose from confrontation.

"China will stay calm and sober-minded and embrace greater openness. Both China and the US would love to see greater trade and cooperation. We are ready to discuss and work for a solution on trade that is acceptable to both sides," he said.

Over the past months, the world's two biggest economies have been embroiled in a trade spat that have seen tariffs being slapped on billions of dollars of goods, stoking fears of how a protracted conflict between the two economic superpowers could derail the global economy.

In the speech that reiterated China's call for principles including mutual respect and openness, Wang noted that the country "rejects Cold War mentality and power politics", and that economic globalization "is not a zero sum game".

Wang's appearance as the high-level forum's keynote speaker was announced just days ago, heightening excitement given his hefty political influence and close relationship with President Xi.

Wang's speech to an audience which included former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, former US Treasury secretary Hank Paulson and host Michael Bloomberg, largely reiterated China's call for sticking to the principles of mutual respect, openness, and building consensus so that economic benefits can be shared by all.

The 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 United States and others, analysts say.

"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," Wei Zongyou, an international studies professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, told the South China Morning Post.

Trump has vacillated between optimistic and cautious assessments in the final days of a midterm election campaign in which the trade war has clouded an otherwise clear economic outlook. Trump told a campaign rally on Monday in Fort Wayne, Indiana, that he believed he would reach a deal with Xi, "but a fair deal -- fair deal. There's a difference. No bad deals."

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced on Monday that they would host their Chinese counterparts on Friday in Washington for a regular diplomatic and security dialogue. Still, many in China are already preparing for a protracted fight.

The resumption of high-level dialogue, marked by a phone call last week between Trump and Xi, comes ahead of an expected meeting between the two at the G20 summit in Argentina starting in late November.

China and the US have both described last week's telephone call between Xi and Trump as positive.

Speaking at the same forum, Kissinger, who helped broker the United States' 1970s rapprochement with China -- said that he was "fairly optimistic" a wider clash could be avoided, but warned that failure would "destroy hope for world order."

Trade negotiators from both sides should avoid getting bogged down in details and first explain to each other what objectives they are seeking to achieve, and what concessions they can and cannot make, he said.

"If the world order becomes defined by continuous conflict between the US and China, sooner or later it risks getting out of control," said Kissinger.

"Some disagreements are inevitable but the objective needs to be that both countries recognize that a fundamental conflict between them will destroy hope for the world order," he said.

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