China's Xi pledges greater openness amid Trump trade dispute

US President Donald Trump (2nd R) speaks to China's President Xi Jinping (L) in front of US First Lady Melania Trump (2nd L) and Xi's wife Peng Liyuan (R) in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on November 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jim Watson)

Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to open sectors from banking to auto manufacturing, in a speech that also warned against returning to a “Cold War mentality” amid his trade disputes with U.S. counterpart Donald Trump.

Xi said China would increase imports, lower foreign-ownership limits on manufacturing and expand protection to intellectual property. Xi cited the measures while saying China was entering a “new phase of opening up” in his keynote address Tuesday to the Boao Forum for Asia, his country’s answer to Davos.

“Human society is facing a major choice to open or close, to go forward or backward,” Xi told hundreds of investors gathered on the resort island of Hainan. “In today’s world, the trend of peace and cooperation is moving forward and a Cold War mentality and zero-sum game thinking are outdated.”

The long-planned speech – marking 40 years after the first economic reforms transformed China – was being closely watched after Trump’s plan to hit hundreds of Chinese products with duties. The country faces a credibility gap after years of promises to free up the economy were followed by more centralized control, market-access barriers and state support for local companies.

Those practices are at the center of Trump’s threats to levy some $150 billion of tariffs against China. The U.S. has asked the the country to reduce its trade surplus by $100 billion, cut tariffs on cars and stop forced technology transfers by foreign corporations, among other things.

The trade spat has put pressure on Xi to counter the U.S narrative during his speech on the resort island of Hainan, which will be attended by leaders including Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde.

Since Trump’s election, Xi has presented himself as a champion of the existing global trading system. Last year, he countered Trump’s “America First” campaign promises in a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he compared protectionism to “locking yourself in a dark room.”

On Tuesday, Xi’s speech also included a veiled swipe at such policies: “Paying attention only to one’s own community without thinking of others can only lead into a wall. And we can only achieve win-win results by insisting on peaceful development and working together.” – Bloomberg