Sino-US talks, Huawei: Highlights of China State Councillor Wang Yi's news conference on NPC sidelines

State Councillor Wang Yi speaks during a press conference on the sidelines of China's National People's Congress in Beijing, China on March 8, 2019.
State Councillor Wang Yi speaks during a press conference on the sidelines of China's National People's Congress in Beijing, China on March 8, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING (REUTERS, AFP, DPA) - The Chinese government's top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, on Friday (March 8) held a news conference on the sidelines of China's 11-day annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC) which kicked off on Tuesday (March 5).

Mr Wang covered a range of topics, from China-US trade talks to homegrown telecom equipment maker Huawei.

Here are the key highlights of what he said:

CHINA-US TRADE

The US and China have imposed tit-for-tat tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of each others' goods, roiling financial markets, disrupting manufacturing supply chains and shrinking US farm exports.

US President Donald Trump has for years railed against China's unfair trade practices, singling his ire on what he calls deliberate devaluation of its currency, the renminbi, also called the yuan.

The two countries held two days of high-level talks in Washington in February, the latest in a series of negotiations to resolve their disputes.

Speaking at the news conference on Friday, Mr Wang said the China-US trade talks had made substantive progress, and that the two countries' relations should not descend into confrontation.

On Thursday, Mr Trump also expressed optimism, telling reporters at the White House the negotiations to resolve his eight-month trade war with China were "moving along pretty well".

The US leader President Donald Trump last month postponed a scheduled sharp increase in tariffs on US$200 billion (S$272 billion) in Chinese goods, noting that progress had been made on "structural issues including intellectual property protection, technology transfer, agriculture, services, currency, and many other issues" in the Washington talks.

He said he and Chinese President Xi Jinping would meet to seal a deal if the progress continued.

HUAWEI THE 'SILENT LAMB'

Mr Wang slammed US accusations against Huawei and said Beijing will take "all necessary measures" to defend the "legitimate rights" of the country's companies and individuals.

The foreign minister's remarks came as the US has pressed charges against the company and a top executive over violations of Iran sanctions while warning Western allies to shun the firm over security fears.

"It's quite obvious to any fair and unbiased person that the recent action against a particular company and Chinese individual is not just a pure judicial case but deliberate political suppression," Mr Wang said at the news conference.

 

"We have already and will continue to take all necessary steps, and resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies and citizens," he said, without explaining what kind of measures Beijing would take.

Mr Wang's remarks came as Huawei is mounting a legal and public relations campaign to counter US warnings that the company's networks and equipment could serve as Trojan horses for Chinese intelligence services.

Huawei announced on Thursday (March 7) that it had filed a lawsuit in the US state of Texas to seek the reversal of legislation that prevents American federal agencies from buying its equipment and services.

Mr Wang voiced support for Huawei's lawsuit, saying the company should not be a "silent lamb to the slaughter".

Huawei is fighting back after Canada arrested its chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, in December at the behest of the US over charges that she violated Iran sanctions.

BRI NOT A DEBT TRAP

Mr Wang dismissed criticisms that China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)  is a debt trap and said the infrastructure push that aims to connect Asia, Europe and Africa will benefit the participant countries.

Pointing to various infrastructure projects under the BRI partner countries, including the first motorway in East Africa and a railway tunnel through deep mountains in Kazakhstan, Mr Wang said: "It is no geopolitical tool but a great opportunity for shared development."

More than 100 countries and international groups are now on board with the BRI since it was proposed six years ago.

NORTH KOREA'S DENUCLEARISATION

Mr Wang said other countries needed to have "reasonable expectations" from talks surrounding North Korea's denuclearisation, a week after a summit between the US and North Korean leaders broke down.

The fact that President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in Hanoi last week is in itself something to be applauded, Mr Wang said.

The summit ended without Mr Kim and Mr Trump signing a joint statement, as planned, after they disagreed over Mr Kim's requirement that the US lift sanctions in return for Pyongyang destroying its nuclear weapons.

Some observers saw the summit as a failure. Mr Wang said the Korean Peninsula issue could not be solved overnight. 

He said China, which is Pyongyang's main ally, suggests all parties should create a "roadmap" for North Korea's denuclearisation and take steps sequentially, starting with the easier ones.

VENEZUELA POLITICAL, ECONOMIC CRISES

Mr Wang said foreign sanctions would only worsen the situation in Venezuela and that China continued to support the search for political resolution there.

China has repeatedly called for outsiders not to interfere in Venezuela's internal affairs, and has stuck by the embattled President Nicolas Maduro.

More than 3 million people are believed to have fled Venezuela amid a deep economic crisis marked by shortages of food and medicine and hyperinflation.

Mr Maduro, who took over as president in 2013 and was re-elected last year in a vote widely viewed as fraudulent, blames the crisis on a US-backed sabotage campaign. His opponents say his socialist policies have caused the meltdown.

The US and more than 50 other countries have recognised opposition leader Juan Guaido as oil-rich Venezuela's interim president and increased pressure on Mr Maduro to step down.

US special representative for Venezuela, Mr Elliott Abrams, pledged on Thursday that Washington would "expand the net" of sanctions on the South American nation, including more on banks supporting Mr Maduro's government.

Beijing has lent more than US$50 billion to Venezuela through oil-for-loan agreements over the past decade, securing energy supplies for its fast-growing economy.