Tue, Nov 06, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Xi criticizes ‘law of the jungle’ in a swipe at Trump

Bloomberg

Chinese President Xi Jinping looms on a big screen in the media center as he speaks at the opening ceremony of the China International Import Expo in Shanghai yesterday.

Photo: Reuters

If Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is getting ready to make big concessions to the US, his much-anticipated speech yesterday at a Shanghai trade fair did not show it.

Xi hit back against US President Donald Trump’s “America First” policies with some of his most pointed language yet, denouncing “law of the jungle” and “beggar-thy-neighbor” trade practices.

At the same time, he did not outline any new proposals that would suggest he was prepared to meet Trump’s demands, such as halting forced technology transfers or rolling back support for state-owned enterprises.

“All countries should strive to improve their business environment and solve their own problems,” Xi told the inaugural China International Import Expo, which featured more than 3,600 companies from 172 countries, regions and organizations.

“They shouldn’t always whitewash themselves and blame others, or act like a flashlight that only exposes others, but not themselves,” he said.

Xi stopped short of naming Trump or the US in the speech, his most high-profile economic address since April.

Instead, he stepped up warnings that protectionism would harm global growth while pledging to boost domestic consumption, strengthen intellectual property protection and advance trade talks with Europe, Japan and South Korea.

While Trump has floated the possibility of a deal when he meets Xi in the coming weeks, the two sides remain far apart on resolving key US complaints. Investors watching Xi’s speech for evidence that China was serious about accelerating its economic opening and wanted a quick resolution to the trade war were left underwhelmed.

“He repeated a lot of the planned policies we have already heard in the past few months,” said Sue Trinh, head of Asia FX Strategy at RBC Capital Markets in Hong Kong. “Markets seemed to like the headline ‘to cut import tariffs,’ but this plan was already announced in September and can only be milked so many times.”

Although Xi pledged to import US$30 trillion of good over the next 15 years — up from US$24 trillion in previous estimates — his policy initiatives were largely in line with previous statements.

The government has already cut tariffs this year and said it would do so again.

Enthusiasm was not high in the run-up to the event. While 18 heads of state or government are scheduled to attend, virtually all are from small economies. Of G20 countries, only Russia is sending a head of state or government.

Although the event was meant to gather foreign companies to woo Chinese consumers, global brands from Adidas to Walmart, Procter & Gamble to Union, were sending only country heads — or no senior executives at all.

Starbucks Corp chief executive Kevin Johnson, whose company opens a store in China every 15 hours, will not be attending even though he is scheduled to be in Shanghai.

That did not damp Xi’s efforts to cast himself as one of the world’s chief defenders of globalization, which he described as a “widening road.”

“As globalization deepens, the practices of law of the jungle and winner take all are a dead end,” Xi said.

Trump on Sunday night veered away from recent comments that a deal could be struck quickly, instead touting his hardline approach toward the country during a campaign rally in Tennessee shortly before Xi’s speech.

“We’ve taken the toughest-ever action to crack down on China’s abusive trade practices. We’re doing very well,” he said.

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