BEIJING – China’s president said Friday his country wanted to work out an agreement with the United States to resolve the ongoing trade dispute but warned that he was also willing to take counter-measures if required.
This is the first public statement by Xi Jinping on the possibility of reaching a pact with Washington to end – at least temporarily – the tariff war that the world’s two biggest economies have been involved in since March 2018.
“When necessary, we will fight back. But we have been working actively to try not to have a trade war. We did not initiate this trade war and this is not something we want,” Xi said at an economic forum in Beijing.
“As we always said we don’t want to start the trade war but we are not afraid,” he emphasized.
The Chinese leader said a possible agreement between the two countries should be based on “mutual respect and equality.”
The disputes with the US “may affect the future prospects of the world economy so this is a very important topic to watch,” said Xi. “We always hold positive attitude towards that.”
The remarks came a day after the Ministry of Commerce denied that the partial trade agreement between the two countries, known as the phase one, was in jeopardy.
“At the moment, there are no more details to offer on the agreement, but the external rumors are not accurate,” Gao Feng, spokesperson for the Ministry of Commerce, told reporters on Thursday.
The statement seemed to be a response to US President Donald Trump’s recent claim that Beijing was not taking the lead in the talks.
Trump also said that if a trade agreement is not achieved tariffs will rise even more.
Representatives from China and the US spoke on the telephone on Saturday to advance the agreement although no details of the call have been divulged so far.
In early November, the Chinese Commerce Ministry said it had reached an agreement with Washington to phase out the levies both parties have imposed during the trade dispute.
However, days later, Trump dampened hopes that the tariffs on Chinese products would be phased out and lowered expectations a deal could be met.
The two-year trade war has seen a tit-for-tat hike on tariffs in both countries.
Most recently on Sept. 1 by increasing a 10 percent tax on Chinese imports to 15 percent.
The hike would be worth around $112 billion.
It remains to be seen if on Dec. 15 the same increase will be applied to the remaining imports taxed currently at 10 percent.
If Washington does follow through, the tariff increase would be valued at some $300 billion.
Trade tensions between the two largest world economies go beyond bilateral relations and have profound global consequences.
In its latest global growth forecasts, released in July, the International Monetary Fund lowered its projections of global growth to 3.2 percent this year, one-tenth less than in April weighed down by doubts about a possible resolution of this dispute.