Xi Jinping has promised to cut China’s auto tariffs and improve intellectual property protection in concessions aimed at defusing a worsening trade dispute with Washington.
Speaking at a business conference, the Chinese president made no direct mention of his American counterpart, Donald Trump, or the dispute.
But he promised progress on areas that are US priorities including opening China’s banking industry and boosting imports.
Xi Jinping delivering his speech during the opening of the Boao Forum for Asia in which he promised to cut auto import tariffs
Trump predicted on Sunday that China would take down its trade barriers, expressing optimism despite escalating trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies.
Xi tried to position China as a defender of free trade and cooperation, despite its status as the most-closed major economy, in response to Mr Trump’s ‘America first’ calls for import restrictions and trade deals that are more favourable to the United States.
‘China’s door of opening up will not be closed and will only open wider. We will take the initiative to expand imports,’ Xi said at the Boao Forum for Asia on the southern island of Hainan.
He said Beijing will ‘significantly lower’ tariffs on vehicle imports this year and ease restrictions on foreign ownership in the car industry ‘as soon as possible’.
‘China does not seek trade surplus – we have a genuine desire to increase imports and achieve greater balance of international payments under the current account,’ he said in his keynote speech.
China charges total duties of 25 per cent on most imported cars – a 10 per cent customs tariff plus a 15 percent auto tax.
Donald Trump had predicted China would lower tariffs on imports
Since December 2016, Beijing also has charged an additional 10 percent on ‘super-luxury’ vehicles priced above $200,000.
The Chinese leader also promised to encourage ‘normal technological exchange’ and to ‘protect the lawful ownership rights of foreign enterprises’.
He added that ‘in today’s world, the trend of peace and cooperation is moving forward’ while what he called the ‘Cold War mentality’ was ‘outdated’.
Xi did not, however, address key irritants for Washington such as a requirement for foreign companies to work through joint ventures that require them to give technology to potential local competitors.
The two countries have threatened each other with tens of billions of dollars’ worth of tariffs in recent days and Chinese officials have said this is not the time for negotiations.
But Trump administration officials have stressed that the tariffs are not yet in place and the dispute could be resolved through talks.
Private sector analysts saw Mr Xi’s speech as an overture to help end the biggest global trade dispute since the Second World War.
‘President Xi’s speech could create a very good platform to launch US-China dialogue at the WTO to find a deal on intellectual property rights that will address US concerns,’ said Rajiv Biswas of IHS Markit.
‘This would be a victory for the world trading system and an important step away from the abyss of rising global protectionism.’
Mr Trump has threatened to raise tariffs on Chinese goods worth $50 billion (£35 billion) in response to complaints that Beijing pressures foreign companies to hand over technology in violation of its World Trade Organisation market-opening commitments.
Beijing fired back with its own $50 billion list of US goods for possible retaliation.