Unilateral trade actions won’t solve problems, says Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at Tianjin summit

by Sayuri Daimon

Staff Writer

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said Wednesday that unilateral trade actions will not solve any problems, stressing that multilateralism should instead be upheld.

“It is essential that we uphold the basic principles of multilateralism and free trade,” Li said in a speech at the World Economic Forum summit in Tianjin.

His remarks came as the United States and China are embroiled in escalating trade tensions.

In response to Washington’s decision to place additional levies on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods starting Monday, China announced Tuesday that it would apply its own tariffs on about $60 billion worth of imports from the U.S.

Though Li made no direct mention of the latest round in the trade dispute, his remarks could be perceived as criticism of Donald Trump’s administration.

“Disputes need to be worked out through consultations. … No unilateralism will offer a viable solution,” the premier told the participants of the Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2018, often dubbed the Summer Davos.

The three-day business conference, which kicked off Tuesday, brings together business leaders, public figures and academics from all over the world.

Li stressed that globalization has given China tremendous opportunities and that the country will open itself further, and at a faster pace.

He went on to promise that the nation would improve business conditions for foreign companies and treat them equally. He emphasized that the country won’t devalue the yuan for the sake of increasing its exports.

“China will never go down the path of stimulating exports by devaluating its currency,” Li said. “China will create conditions to keep the value of the yuan stable.”

The nearly hourlong speech, which touched upon many aspects of China’s economy and its growth, drew positive responses from the audience.

“This was a powerful, very reassuring speech,” said Victor Chu, chairman and CEO of First Eastern Investment Group based in Hong Kong, who is a longtime investor in China. “The fact that he is giving these commitments at Summer Davos is very important. Because this is an international conference, these commitments are subject to scrutiny.”

Chu thinks that the two countries are likely to secure a trade deal after the U.S. midterm elections. “Because Trump is basically pushing ‘America First’ and he needs a win on trade, he is exerting maximum pressure,” Chu said. “President Trump is a smart businessman and President Xi (Jinping) is a reasonable man. And they must find a way of not escalating (the dispute) further,” he said.

Others also expressed hope that the two countries would resolve the issue soon.

“I do think that by consultations and by negotiations, big countries like China and the U.S. will be able to resolve the issues,” said Tudor Ulianovschi, foreign minister of Moldova.

“And that is necessary not only for these two countries, but also for the entire world trading system,” he added.