China seeks G20 backing for free trade

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Donald Trump and Xi Jinping meet in Hamburg, Germany, in 2017. Wikimedia Commons

BEIJING (AFP) – China said Monday it would seek backing for free trade and multilateralism at the G20 summit this week as it denounced protectionism while it fights a tariffs war with the United States.

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A meeting between Xi Jinping and his Donald Trump on the sidelines of the gathering in Osaka, Japan has fuelled hopes for a truce in the increasingly damaging standoff between the world’s top two economies.

“Unilateralism and protectionism has damaged global growth… undermined global value chains and dampened market sentiment,” Zhang Jun, the Chinese assistant minister of foreign affairs, said at a briefing to preview Xi’s attendance at the summit.

“China will work with others at the G20 to firmly uphold multilateralism and an open, rule-based global trading order,” Zhang said.

But Japan, the European Union and other trading partners have in the past echoed US complaints about the alleged theft of intellectual property and lack of a level playing field for foreign investors in China.

Any attempts to build a united front with China will be tempered by these concerns.

Negotiations to resolve the trade war stalled last month resulting in both sides exchanging steep tariffs on hundreds of billions in exports.

Chinese vice minister for commerce Wang Shouwen said teams from both sides are now “discussing the next step for communication” ahead of the Xi-Trump meeting.

The two should make compromises and any talks between China and the US have to be based on “mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit and comply with WTO rules”, Wang said.

The two leaders are also expected to discuss the fate of Chinese tech giant Huawei, which has suffered a heavy blow after the Trump administration banned US firms from working with it, citing espionage fears.

Wang urged the US to remove “inappropriate and discriminatory” barriers against Chinese companies, saying such moves jeopardise the interests of both Chinese and US companies.

The planned meeting comes a week after Xi visited nuclear-armed North Korea, and analysts said any influence he may have on Pyongyang’s isolated leader could be used as leverage to win consensions from Trump.

Zhang declined to confirm whether North Korea will be on the agenda for the Trump-Xi head-to-head, saying they were still “finalising the details”.

He also said China will “not allow” a discussion on Hong Kong at the G20 even as Washington said Trump plans to raise the city’s mass protests in his meeting with Xi.

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