China has declared itself an “anchor of stability” in the era of American protectionism under President Donald Trump.
Chinese leaders are holding their country up as a beacon of reform and openness and issuing thinly-veiled criticisms of America’s president and his “America first” policies, despite lingering accusations of Chinese protectionism and self-serving economic practices.
“This is a testing time,” Premier Li Keqiang wrote Thursday in an article for Bloomberg Businessweek.
“China offers an anchor of stability and growth with its consistent message of support for reform, openness, and free trade,” Li explained, ironically writing for a news website that is blocked in China. “We remain convinced that economic openness serves everyone better, at home and abroad.”
“It’s far preferable for countries to trade goods and services and bond through investment partnerships than to trade barbs and build barriers,” Li wrote, taking a shot at Trump.
Li’s comments echo those of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who criticized protectionism in his speech at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2017 in Davos, Switzerland.
“Pursuing protectionism is like locking oneself in a dark room,” he argued. “While wind and rain may be kept outside, that dark room will also block light and air.”
“No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war,” he added, referring to the likely outcome if Trump followed through on his campaign promise to heavily tax Chinese exports to the U.S.
Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Monday, a move many believe will create opportunities for China to emerge as a leader in Asia.
“The front runners have stepped back, leaving the place to China,” Zhang Jun, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official, told reporters shortly after Xi’s speech. “If China is required to play that leadership role, then China will assume its responsibilities.”
While China is presenting itself as a leader in globalization and a staunch opponent of protectionism, China has been accused of bending, even breaking the rules to protect its industries.
Wilbur Ross, Trump’s pick for commerce secretary, called China “the most protectionist country of very large countries.”
Many foreign businesses, especially in the technology sector, have encountered resistance and barriers in China designed to protect Chinese businesses from foreign competitors.
China’s embrace of globalization is believed to serve China’s short-term interests, such as stability during an awkward transition to a new economic model, a shift characterized by slowing growth.
Motives aside, China has become a major supporter of global initiatives for international trade and integration, such as the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP), Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and the One Road, One Belt (OBOR). While these projects have not yet taken shape, they have tremendous potential.
It is unclear which paths China and the U.S. will ultimately choose. Chinese and American leaders may be espousing different rhetoric, but how everything plays out in practice remains to be seen.
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