Top Chinese diplomats in Washington on Tuesday warned against “trade wars,” as President Obama faces a looming decision on whether to erect barriers against the import of Chinese tires.
“Trade wars between China and the United States is the last thing that our two countries need right now,” said Xie Feng, deputy chief of mission for the Chinese Embassy in Washington.
Mr. Xie and Wu Jianmin, one of the top-ranking diplomats and foreign policy experts within the Chinese government, briefed reporters at the imposing year-old Chinese Embassy in advance of the upcoming summit of the world’s largest economies in Pittsburgh later this month.
While Mr. Wu downplayed “trade frictions” between the United States and China, which he said the two countries have “all the time,” he did emphasize that the relationship between the world’s greatest superpower and one of its most prominent rising powers is a delicate one.
“We have to handle our relationship with care,” said Mr. Wu, a former ambassador to France who currently serves on the foreign policy advisory group at China’s Foreign Ministry.
Both Mr. Xie and Mr. Wu said it is important for the United States and China to resist growing protectionist pressures and to continue to advance trade liberalization.
“A very important message that China and the United States should give to the outside world is that we are all against protectionism,” Mr. Xie said. “China and the United States not only have every reason but also have the obligation to show to the world with our concrete actions that we are doing exactly … that.”
The Obama administration currently is facing a decision on whether to impose tariffs against Chinese tires, following the recommendation of the U.S. International Trade Commission. The president has until Sept. 17 to decide.
The United Steelworkers of America, the union that represents many of the 8,000 American workers who it says have lost or will lose their jobs because of competition from Chinese tire production, called Tuesday for the White House to go further than the ITC recommendation and impose a tariff of higher than 55 percent.
“Ever since the ITC’s June finding of market disruption, we have watched with alarm as the Chinese have cranked up their exports of tires to beat the date any remedy is applied,” said USW President Leo W. Gerard.
Though Mr. Obama conceivably could delay his decision, the issue presents a thorny challenge for him just days before he will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and other world leaders at the Group of 20 summit in Pittsburgh. The United States has issued strong calls for the world to reject protectionism at each of the last two G-20 summits, in Washington nearly a year ago and in London last spring.
But in a 558-word statement on the G-20 released by Mr. Obama on Tuesday, the president did not once mention protectionism. Where his statement was prescriptive, he talked about regulation of financial markets and of plotting “a path for sustainable growth while steering clear of the imbalances of the past,” a reference to trade imbalances with countries such as China.
The White House, however, said the statement was more of a welcome message to world leaders rather than a description of their overall agenda.
Wu Bangguo, who as chairman of the standing committee of the National People’s Congress in China is the nation’s top legislator, is currently in the United States to promote trade and commerce between the two countries. He was scheduled to meet Wednesday with top U.S. lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
But Mr. Wu sidestepped the issue of whether it would be hypocritical for Mr. Obama to put up trade barriers after leading the charge in London against protectionism.
“It’s important for the G-20 to make statements against protectionism, because we all remember what happened in the 1930s when the protectionism led the world to a very disastrous situation,” he said.
“The statement is important. How to implement the statements, I mean, different countries may have different interpretations. How to resolve the difference in terms of interpretations? The best way is dialogue. Let’s talk to each other.”
Mr. Wu did, however, issue a rousing call for the West to heed the growing influence of his nation.
“In the past two centuries or more, the world basically was a Western-dominated world,” he said. “But the world is changing… . The 21st-century world will not be necessarily a Western-dominated world. The mindset many people have in the West has to change to some extent to take into account the change.”