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US commerce secretary visits Beijing amid mounting trade tensions

US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross Photo: Reuters

US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross arrived in Beijing early Saturday morning for talks with China amid mounting trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies as Washington pressured Beijing to buy more of its products or to face similar tariffs it imposed on its closest allies.

During the three-day closed-door meeting in Beijing Mr Ross was expected to identify areas of further trade cooperation and raise the US concerns of intellectual property rights protection with officials from China’s ministry of commerce to avert a possible trade war between the two countries. His visit to Beijing was precedented by a 50-strong US trade delegation to the Chinese capital.

Ross arrived in Beijing hours after the US announced its decision to slap a 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on  aluminium from the European Union, Canada and Mexico, triggering a chorus of condemnation and concerted retaliation from the countries concerned, with French President  Emmanuel Macron denouncing the move as a “mistake and illegal”.

As for China, the White House announced earlier this week that the US “will impose a 25 per cent tariff on $50 billion of goods imported from China containing industrially significant technology, including those related to “Made in China 2025”. The measures also included curbs on Chinese investment and purchases of US high-tech exports.

The US move was widely seen in China not only as a new effort to narrow the trade imbalance which, the US said, standing at some 375.2 billion U.S. dollars annually in China’s favour, but also to hinder China’s transformation from a provider of labor-intensive and technology-humble products into a leading exporter of high-tech products and services, a main ambition envisaged in China’s current development plan dubbed as “made in China 2025”.

The White House said the list of targeted goods will be made public on June 15, and investment restrictions and export controls are to be announced on June 30, the White House said. The tariffs, to be levied under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, and restrictions will be imposed “shortly” after the announcement.

China’s commerce ministry responded immediately, saying the move “clearly contradicts the consensus reached by China and the US in Washington recently".

"China is confident, capable and experienced to defend Chinese people's interests and national core interests, regardless of whatever measures the US side could take," the ministry said in an official statement.

“No government can afford to be an obedient lamb in face of threats, and the Chinese government is sure to retaliate by imposing tit-for-tat tariffs on American products if the US really go into action”, said a Beijing-based observer who is closely following the Sino-US trade fictions on condition of anonymity.

China, apparently one of the most obvious beneficiaries of the current global trade order, wasted no time in reaffirming its commitment to free trade and economic globalization ahead of Ross’s visit to Beijing.

“Countries, especially major economies, should firmly oppose trade and investment protectionism and safeguard the normal international trade order, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Friday when commenting the US tariff decision on steel and aluminium from its allies, but also apparently manifesting China’s principal stance in its upcoming trade talks with the United States.
Hua told a daily news conference that all countries should maintain a fair, open and rule-based multilateral trading system, with the World Trade Organization as a core, to promote sustained global economic recovery and growth.

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