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China defends free trade ahead of Ross visit

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China reiterated its commitment to the global trade order on Friday, hours after Washington slapped new tariffs on imports from key allies and a day before US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was due in Beijing for talks to avert a trade war.

[BEIJING] China reiterated its commitment to the global trade order on Friday, hours after Washington slapped new tariffs on imports from key allies and a day before US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was due in Beijing for talks to avert a trade war.

While many countries share US frustration over Chinese trade and economic practices, critics of US policy under President Donald Trump have warned that Washington risks alienating the European Union, Canada and Mexico with 25 per cent tariffs on steel and 10 per cent on aluminium.

"All countries, especially the major economies, should resolutely oppose all forms of trade and investment protectionism," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular media briefing, when asked about the US move.

This weekend's trade talks come as Washington is engaged in fragile negotiations towards what would be a historic summit between Mr Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whose main diplomatic backer is Beijing.

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Mr Ross, who was preceded in Beijing this week by more than 50 US officials, is expected to press China to commit to buying more US agriculture, energy, and other products to narrow the $375 billion trade deficit.

One person with knowledge of Washington's planning said the US approach for Mr Ross' visit was to keep the dialogue going.

Mr Ross is "going there to tread water," the person said, declining to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.

What had appeared to have been a trade truce between Beijing and Washington was upended this week when the White House said it would follow through on its threat of tariffs on US$50 billion worth of Chinese imports, as well as restrictions on Chinese investments in the United States and tighter export controls.

Washington and Beijing have threatened tit-for-tat tariffs on goods worth up to US$150 billion each.

"The more Trump is irritating allies and asking Chinese to buy stuff, the better off they are, because he's not sitting there and attacking the hard issues," the person said.

Those hard issues include what the US complains is rampant theft of intellectual property, as well as Beijing's support for cutting-edge technologies under its Made in China 2025 policy.

On Friday, China's markets regulator said it was still reviewing San Diego-based Qualcomm Inc's $44 billion acquisition of NXP Semiconductors.

Some people familiar with the matter have told Reuters that approval may depend on progress of broader talks and a reprieve from a US government ban on sales by US companies to China's ZTE Corp, penalised for illegally supplying gear to Iran and North Korea.

Reuters reported on Sunday that Qualcomm was expecting to meet this week in Beijing with China's antitrust regulators in a final push to secure clearance for the deal.

Qualcomm made its latest submission regarding the deal to China's State Administration for Market Regulation early this week, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

China's exports have mushroomed since joining the World Trade Organisation in 2001, making it the world's second-largest economy. It has positioned itself as a defender of the global trade system in the face of Washington's tougher stance under Mr Trump.

China hopes its people and those of the United States, especially consumers, will continue to gain from mutually beneficial US-Sino trade relations, Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said on Friday.

Asked about Mr Ross' visit, the Chinese Foreign Ministry's spokeswoman declined to give any details, referring the question to the Commerce Ministry, the government department that will host him and which has not given details, either.

"Of course, we have said that China's door to dialogue and consultations is open," Ms Hua said.

"We believe that when it comes to the problems in Sino-US trade and business both sides should take a sincere attitude in the spirit of equality and mutual respect to use dialogue and consultations to seek a mutually beneficial win-win solution."

REUTERS