China backs reform of world trade system: Top envoy

Visiting French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian with his Chinese counterpart, State Councillor Wang Yi, at their press conference following a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on Thursday.
Visiting French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian with his Chinese counterpart, State Councillor Wang Yi, at their press conference following a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on Thursday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Foreign minister notes system not without flaws, says it should be made more effective

BEIJING • The world trade system is not perfect, and China supports its reform, including to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), to make it fairer and more effective, Beijing's top diplomat said.

China is locked in a bitter trade war with the United States and has vowed repeatedly to uphold the multilateral trading system and free trade, with the WTO at its centre.

But speaking late on Thursday to reporters, after meeting French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi said some reforms could be good.

While certain doubts have been raised about the current international trading system, China has always supported the protection of free trade and believes that multilateralism with the WTO at its core should be strengthened, Mr Wang added. "At the same time, we do not believe that the current system is perfect and without flaws," he said. "China supports necessary reforms and perfection of the current system, including to the WTO, to make it fairer, more effective and more rational," Mr Wang added.

The basic tenets of the WTO, in opposing protectionism and supporting free trade, should not change, but the rights of developing nations should also not be overlooked, he argued.

"The aim of reform should be to allow countries to enjoy the development fruits of globalisation more fairly, not to further widen the differences between South and North," Mr Wang said.

WTO reforms need to include listening to voices from all parties and broad consultation, and should especially include listening to and respecting the opinions of developing countries, rather than just allowing "one person to have a say", added Mr Wang, who is also Foreign Minister.

FAIRER DEAL

The aim of reform should be to allow countries to enjoy the development fruits of globalisation more fairly, not to further widen the differences between South and North.

CHINESE STATE COUNCILLOR WANG YI

"The issue of WTO reform is extremely complex, and involves many areas. (China) hopes all parties remain patient, and advance step by step."

Mr Wang's remarks come as Beijing and Washington look like they may return to the negotiating table, amid the looming threat of new American tariffs. US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has extended an invitation for talks to his counterparts in China.

But China will not buckle to US demands in any trade negotiations, the state-run China Daily newspaper said in an editorial yesterday, after Chinese officials welcomed an invitation from Washington for a new round of talks.

China Daily said that while Beijing was "serious" about resolving the stand-off through talks, it would not roll over, despite concerns over a slowing economy and a falling stock market at home.

"The Trump administration should not be mistaken that China will surrender to the US demands. It has enough fuel to drive its economy even if a trade war is prolonged," the newspaper said.

If the US imposed new levies on Chinese imports, then Beijing "will not hesitate to take countermeasures against US tariffs to safeguard China's interests", it added.

President Donald Trump said on Thursday that the US holds the upper hand in talks. "We are under no pressure to make a deal with China, they are under pressure to make a deal with us," Mr Trump tweeted. "Our markets are surging, theirs are collapsing."

The US administration is readying a final list of US$200 billion (S$274 billion) worth of Chinese imports on which it plans to levy tariffs of 10 per cent to 25 per cent in the coming days, which would ramp up the trade war between the world's two largest economies.

Mr Trump last week said he also had tariffs on an additional US$267 billion worth of Chinese goods ready "on short notice if I want".

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2018, with the headline 'China backs reform of world trade system: Top envoy'. Print Edition | Subscribe