China's ambassador on Monday brushed off the Trump administration's complaints that Beijing is employing predatory trade and economic practices to bully and intimidate neighbors, suggesting that the United States “look in the mirror because they might be describing themselves.”
Ambassador Cui Tiankai's comments during a briefing with reporters came as President Trump prepares to leave Washington at week's end for a 12-day swing through five Asian nations, including China, during which the main topics are expected to be confronting North Korea and discussions on U.S. trade relations in the region.
Cui emphasized that Chinese President Xi Jinping, fresh off his consolidation of power at China's 19th Communist Party Congress, is preparing to welcome Trump with a lavish reception, including a military honor guard and formal banquet. The ambassador said the aim is to honor Trump on his first visit to China since taking office with a “state visit-plus” that aims to replicate Trump's two-day summit with Xi at Mar-a-Lago in south Florida in April.
At the same time, however, Cui sketched out a muscular view of Chinese foreign policy and urged the United States and its allies to do more to pursue a “negotiated solution” to Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program and to ratchet down rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Cui said China is faithfully implementing the United Nations Security Council's new economic sanctions on North Korea, but he added that “if only China is making its best efforts and others are doing things that lead to an escalation of tensions, this issue will not be solved. It will become even more difficult and the end result will hurt everybody’s interests.”
The ambassador declined to specifically address Trump's U.N. speech last month during which he vowed to “totally destroy” North Korea if necessary, or Trump's tweets in which he derisively referred to dictator Kim Jong Un as the “Little Rocket Man.”
“I'm not the White House spokesman,” he said. But he said that other countries could “do more to seek a negotiated solution. I do not think there has been sufficient international efforts on this front. China will do its utmost to promote dialogue and negotiation. We have put forward so many proposals — freeze for freeze and the dual track approach [to diplomacy]. I just hope others have a more positive response to our proposals.”
The Trump administration, following the policies of past administrations, has refused to entertain the idea of freezing U.S. and South Korean military cooperation in exchange for a freeze on North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Trump has continued to push Beijing to exert more pressure on Pyongyang, and the administration granted additional powers to the U.S. Treasury Department to enact sanctions on foreign companies and banks that do business in North Korea. China is the North's largest trading partner.
“We are taking measures to implement the sanctions, though honestly many sanctions are being implemented with high costs for China itself because we are DPRK's neighbor,” he said, using the acronym for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's formal name. “But we still believe there's a larger global interest of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, so we are willing to take up more costs.”
Trump is scheduled to arrive in Beijing on Nov. 8 after stops in Tokyo and Seoul. He will have a formal bilateral meeting with Xi, and Cui said plans are underway for the two leaders to have significant additional opportunities to talk. After two nights in Beijing, Trump will visit Vietnam for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit and the Philippines for a meeting with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, White House officials said.
On trade, Cui vigorously defended China's policies and stressed that Beijing is pursuing economic reforms aimed at closing the trade imbalance with the United States, which Trump railed on during his campaign. Trump has not followed through on campaign threats to label China a currency manipulator, but he has continued to suggest that the United States is being harmed by unfair economic practices in China, Mexico, South Korea and other countries.
Cui said the two sides have been involved in lengthy negotiations and he predicted that an agreement would be struck to pursue new economic partnerships, building on the 100-day economic plan announced at the Mar-a-Lago summit.
“We proceed good faith and goodwill,” Cui said. “There has not been any evidence China is trying to dominate the region.” He said that some of the trade imbalance is structural, due to the United States' more advanced position in the global production chain, and he emphasized that China will hold its first international import summit in Shanghai next year.
“We do not want a trade surplus,” he added. “This, in the long run, will not help China's economy. It might even hurt China's economy. We want more balanced trade relations with other countries.”
At one point, speaking in Chinese, Cui noted that China actually runs a trade deficit with the United States in the services sector, and he joked that those in the United States should read the writings of former Chinese president Deng Xiaoping, who was credited with opening the country's economy to the West in the late 1970s.