The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

China vows to open its markets further in response to Trump’s tariff threats

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang speaks during a news conference following the closing of the First Session of the 13th National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People on March 20 in Beijing. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

BEIJING — China responded to the threat of new tariffs from the United States by vowing Tuesday to further open its own markets to foreign trade and investment, while warning that a trade war between the two nations would hurt both sides.

President Trump is preparing to impose a package of $60 billion in annual tariffs against Chinese products, a move that he says will punish China for intellectual property theft and create more U.S. jobs, administration officials say. He is determined to bring down the U.S. trade deficit with China, which reached $375 billion last year.

But China’s premier, Li Keqiang, said the issue should be solved through dialogue and negotiation.

“No one will emerge a winner from a trade war,” Li told a news conference at the conclusion of China’s annual parliamentary session. “What we hope is for us to act rationally instead of being led by emotions.”

China is rapidly modernizing its forces in an attempt to match the U.S. might in Asia. (Video: Jason Aldag/The Washington Post)

The tariff package, which Trump plans to unveil by Friday, could be applied to more than 100 products that the president says were developed using trade secrets that China stole from U.S. companies or forced them to hand over in exchange for access to its huge market.

China says that trade benefits both countries, but Li acknowledged U.S. concerns.

“A large trade deficit is not something we want to see,” he said. “What we want to see is balanced trade; otherwise this kind of trade will not be sustainable.”

Li reiterated a pledge made at the opening of the parliamentary session two weeks ago to further open China’s markets to foreign companies, something he said was in Beijing’s interests. And he also vowed stronger protection for foreign companies’ intellectual property.

“With its economy so integrated into the international economy, closing its own door will only block China’s way,” he said. “Moreover there is still broad room for us to further open up.”

The U.S. business community here says that China does not treat foreign companies fairly and has failed to follow through in recent years on pledges to open its doors more widely. Despite China’s recent attempt to portray itself as a defender of free trade, the reality is that U.S. markets remain far more open than Chinese ones, diplomats and experts say. 

The American Chamber of Commerce in China reacted somewhat warily, saying it was pleased to hear Li’s pledges to grant greater market access and better protect intellectual property. But it added that it would have to “wait and see” what revisions are put in place by China and how effective they will be.

It also gave qualified support to Trump’s tough stance. 

“Trade wars have a history of not ending well. But after years of bilateral negotiations with only incremental progress, the U.S. seems to feel it is left with few options,” said AmCham China Chairman William Zarit. “The proposed trade remedies may not be perfect, but based on past talks, the U.S. probably feels that without pressure, little progress will be made.”

In his remarks, Li pledged to slash tariffs for “day-to-day” consumer goods, phase in zero tariffs for imported drugs, especially cancer medications, and even relax access to service sectors such as care for the elderly, health care, education and finance.

“We believe these [steps] will bring opportunities for American companies, too,” he said, while also reiterating a long-standing Chinese request for the United States to ease restrictions on high-tech exports to China.

“We hope this important means for balancing China-U.S. trade will not be missed, because that would be missing a good opportunity for making more money.”

Li said there would be “no mandatory requirements for technology transfer,” a key complaint from foreign investors in the past. 

China’s aim, he said, is that both Chinese and foreign companies can compete on level terms, but he also warned that further opening up “will naturally be a step-by-step process.” He also suggested that China would not make unilateral concessions.

“I want to emphasize that opening needs to be a two-way track, just as it takes paddling on both sides for a boat to move forward,” he said. “Otherwise it will just keep spinning at the same place.”

Last week, a coalition of U.S. business and trade lobby groups urged Trump not to impose tariffs on China, warning it would be “particularly harmful” to the U.S. economy and consumers. 

But the AFL-CIO union federation says tariffs are sometimes necessary to counter unfair trade practices, especially if they put American workers at a disadvantage.

Amber Ziye Wang, Liu Yang, Luna Lin and Shirley Feng contributed to this report. 

China warns about attacks on free trade, even as it keeps its own barriers in place

U.S. firms want Trump administration to press China for more level playing field

Command and control: China’s Communist Party extends reach into foreign companies

Today’s coverage from Post correspondents around the world

Like Washington Post World on Facebook and stay updated on foreign news