China yesterday offered Britain talks on a post-Brexit free trade deal, reaching out to London as Beijing remains mired in an increasingly bitter trade war with Washington, even as a senior Chinese diplomat reiterated its door remained open for dialogue.
China has been looking for allies in its fight with the US, initiated by the administration of US President Donald Trump, which has said China’s high-tech industries have stolen intellectual property from US firms and demanded that Beijing buy more US products to reduce a US$350 billion trade surplus.
Britain has pushed a strong message to Chinese companies that it is fully open for business as it prepares to leave the EU next year and China is one of the countries with which Britain would like to sign a post-Brexit free-trade deal.
Speaking to reporters in Beijing after meeting UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Jeremy Hunt, the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs and State Councilor Wang Yi (王毅), said both countries agreed to step up trade with and investment in each other.
Hunt said Wang had made an offer “to open discussions about a possible free trade deal done between Britain and China post-Brexit.”
“That’s something that we welcome and we said that we will explore,” Hunt said, without elaborating.
While a trade pact with China would be a political win for the British government, formal talks cannot begin until it officially leaves the EU next year.
In the briefing, Wang again slammed Washington for intransigence and intentionally hyping up the idea that the US is the real victim in their trade dispute.
“The responsibility for the trade imbalance between China and the United States lies not with China,” Wang said, citing the global role of the US dollar, low US savings rates, huge levels of US consumption and US restrictions on high-tech exports as amongst the reasons.
Both China and the US had appeared to have avoided a full-scale trade war in May, with China agreeing to buy more US agriculture and energy products, but the deal collapsed and the two sides slapped import tariffs on their respective goods.
Washington has since threatened to set tariffs on an additional US$450 billion worth of Chinese goods and no formal negotiations between the two countries have taken place since early last month.
China has said it is committed to resolving the dispute via talks, and has appealed to other countries to support it in upholding free trade and the multilateral trading system, though European countries in particular have many of the same market access complaints as the US.
Wang said the tensions were initiated by the US, and the two should resolve their issues under the WTO framework, rather than in accordance with US law.
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