- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Top Chinese diplomats in Washington on Tuesday said they were anxious to avoid “trade wars” with the United States, as President Obama faces a politically delicate decision on whether to erect new barriers against the import of Chinese tires.

“Trade wars between China and the United States are the last thing that our two countries need right now,” said Xie Feng, deputy chief of mission at 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.

Mr. Wu downplayed “trade frictions” between the United States and China, saying the two countries have them “all the time.” But he did emphasize that the relationship between the world’s leading 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.

Mr. Xie and Mr. Wu said it was 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 faces a deadline on whether to impose tariffs against Chinese tires, after the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) found that surging Chinese imports had “disrupted” the U.S. market and could threaten U.S.-based rivals. The president has until Sept. 17 to decide on a remedy.

The United Steelworkers union, which represents many of the 8,000 American workers who it says have lost or will lose their jobs because of competition from Chinese tire producers, 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 union President Leo W. Gerard.

The issue presents a thorny challenge for Mr. Obama 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 and trade barriers at each of the past 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 mention protectionism. He talked instead about regulating 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.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs dismissed the idea that a decision to impose a tariff on tires just before the G-20 summit would create a problem for the president, saying they were “separate issues.”

Wu Bangguo, who as chairman of the standing committee of the National People’s Congress in China is the nation’s top legislator, is in the United States to promote trade and commerce between the two countries. He was scheduled to meet Wednesday with top lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

But Mr. Wu sidestepped the issue of whether it would be hypocritical for Mr. Obama to consider putting up new 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.

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