BEIJING: A top Chinese official warned on Sunday that a â€œtrade warâ€� would harm all sides, but gave no indication of Beijingâ€™s possible next move in a spiraling dispute with President Donald Trump over steel and technology.
Speaking to global business leaders at a development forum, Vice Premier Han Zheng appealed for cooperation to make economic globalization â€œbeneficial for all.â€�
â€œA trade war serves the interests of none,â€� said Han at the China Development Forum. â€œIt will only lead to serious consequences and negative impact.â€�
Han didnâ€™t mention Trump by name or refer directly to the dispute with Washington, but the countryâ€™s newly appointed economy czar warned on Saturday that Beijing will defend its interests. The government issued a $3 billion list on Friday of US goods, including pork and stainless steel pipes, it said might be hit by higher tariffs.
The Commerce Ministry said those charges were linked to Trumpâ€™s approval earlier of higher tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. But a bigger battle is brewing over Trumpâ€™s approval Thursday of a possible tariff hike on $30 billion of Chinese goods in response to what Washington says is Beijingâ€™s improper acquisition of foreign technology.
Global financial markets have sunk on fears Chinese retaliation might prompt other governments to raise import barriers, depressing global trade.
Han appealed to other governments to â€œcooperate with each other like passengers in the same boatâ€� and â€œmake economic globalization more open, inclusive, balanced and beneficial for all.â€� However, he also emphasized that Chinaâ€™s income per person still is low, suggesting Beijing is unlikely to offer significant concessions to Washington.
Han repeated promises that planned Chinese market-opening would create new opportunities for foreign companies. Business groups have welcomed reform pledges, but complain Beijing is moving too slowly.
In a phone call on Saturday with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Vice Premier Liu He said Beijing is â€œready and capable of defending its national interest and hopes both sides will remain rational,â€� according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
In a speech to the economic forum, Apple CEO Tim Cook acknowledged tensions in Western societies that fuel demands for import controls and said companies must spread the benefits of globalization more widely.
â€œNot everyone has benefited like all of us in this room have from technology and globalization, and we all must help to address this disparity,â€� said Cook, a co-chairman of the event. â€œTheir cause must become our cause.â€�
The annual forum, which brings together corporate leaders with Chinese economic officials, is used to showcase Beijingâ€™s plans. This year, those include ambitious promises to open financial markets, and give entrepreneurs and foreign companies a bigger role in Chinaâ€™s state-dominated economy.
Other business leaders at the event included IBM Corp. chairwoman Virginia Rometty, CEO Patrick Pouyanne of French oil giant Total SA, Bank of China Ltd. Chairman Chen Siqing and CEO Ulf Mark Schneider of Nestle SA. It also was attended by Chinaâ€™s newly appointed central bank governor, Yi Gang, and other Chinese economic leaders.
This yearâ€™s forum has been overshadowed by the growing rancor between Washington and Beijing over Trumpâ€™s efforts to redress what he says is an unfair trading relationship.
â€œThe business community has always supported the idea that open markets foster new ideas and allow entrepreneurship to thrive,â€� said Cook. â€œThe strongest companies and economies are those that are open â€” those that thrive on diversity of people and ideas.â€�
At a conference on â€œthe challenge of global inequalityâ€� ahead of the economic forum, the CEO of asset manager BlackRock Inc. pointed to the fall in financial markets and appealed to the two governments to avoid a â€œpublic fight.â€�
â€œDialogue and maybe some adjustment in trade and trade policy can be in order,â€� Laurence Fink said on Saturday.