China says no link between US trade issues and North Korea, and no one would win a 'trade war'

US President Donald Trump speaks during a security briefing on Aug 10, 2017.
US President Donald Trump speaks during a security briefing on Aug 10, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS, AFP) - China’s Foreign Ministry on Monday (Aug 14) said US trade issues and North Korea are not connected, and there is no future in a trade war between China and the United States.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying made the comment at a regular press briefing. US President Donald Trump was due on Monday to sign a memorandum directing US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to determine whether any Chinese laws, policies or practices discriminate against or harm American innovators and technology companies.  

The investigation could lead to sanctions against Beijing.  

Asked about the US move, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua said any member of the World Trade Organisation must respect WTO rules.

“Fighting a trade war has no future. There will be no winner and everybody will lose,” Hua said at a regular news briefing.  “I believe China and the US should continue to work together for the stable and sound development of China-US economic and trade relations,” she said.

US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, bluntly accused China on Saturday of “stealing our intellectual property” – long a concern of Western companies seeking a share of the enormous Chinese market.

The looming investigation follows high tensions between Washington and Beijing. Trump has accused China of failing to rein in the nuclear ambitions of its ally North Korea.  The US officials, however, said the North Korean issue and the investigation into China’s trade practices are not linked.  

Chinese state-run newspaper said Trump's order will "poison" relations between the two countries.

The move, which could eventually lead to steep tariffs on Chinese goods, comes at a time when Trump has asked China to do more to crack down on North Korea's nuclear missile programme as he threatens possible military action against Pyongyang.

Trump has said he would be more amenable to going easy on Beijing if it were more aggressive in reining in North Korea.

In an editorial, the official China Daily said it was critical the Trump administration doesn't make a rash decision it will regret.

"Given Trump's transactional approach to foreign affairs, it is impossible to look at the matter without taking into account his increasing disappointment at what he deems as China's failure to bring into line the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," the English-language paper said.

"But instead of advancing the United States' interests, politicising trade will only acerbate the country's economic woes, and poison the overall China-US relationship." An administration official has insisted diplomacy over North Korea and the potential trade probe were "totally unrelated", saying the trade action was not a pressure tactic.

The China Daily said it was unfair for Trump to put the burden on China for dissuading Pyongyang from its actions.

"By trying to incriminate Beijing as an accomplice in the DPRK's nuclear adventure and blame it for a failure that is essentially a failure of all stakeholders, Trump risks making the serious mistake of splitting up the international coalition that is the means to resolve the issue peacefully," it said.

"Hopefully Trump will find another path. Things will become even more difficult if Beijing and Washington are pitted against each other."

China on Monday announced that it would ban from Tuesday imports of iron, iron ore and seafood from North Korea as it follows through on new UN sanctions approved earlier this month.  

“I want to say that China-US cooperation should be based on mutual respect and mutual trust,” Hua said.  

“The Korean peninsula nuclear issue and the China-US trade issue are totally different and it’s not appropriate to use one issue as a tool to keep pressure on the other issue.”