China has added its voice to a growing chorus of concern about the rising threat of a trade war and tariffs that U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to impose on steel and aluminum imports later this week.
A top Chinese diplomat says that while Beijing does not want a trade war with Washington, it will defend its interests if necessary.
Speaking at a press conference ahead of China’s annual legislative meetings, Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui also gave assurances that the rise of world’s second largest economy and a rise in military spending was no cause for alarm.
“China does not want a trade war with the Untied States, but we will absolutely not sit idly by and watch as China’s interests are damaged,” Zhang said.
Tit for tat
Last week, the U.S. president announced plans to slap tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum imports.
China is a key country Washington is aiming to target with the tariffs, but the decision also has sparked a global backlash with leaders of other affected nations such as Canada and Europe, which are warning they, too, are prepared to take countermeasures.
Analysts have said that if President Trump follows through on his pledges to get tough with China on trade, Beijing could respond by targeting the airline and agricultural sectors, even focusing on communities in the United States where support for the president was strong during the 2016 election.
Zhang, who also is serving as the rotating spokesperson of the National People's Congress (NPC) said the best way to improve trade is to open up markets further and expanding the “pie of cooperation.”
"If policies are made on the basis of mistaken judgments or assumptions, it will damage bilateral relations and bring about consequences that neither country wants to see," Zhang said.
Rising concerns about a trade war are likely to be a hot topic during the annual political meetings. China’s Premier Li Keqiang will deliver a government work report on Monday to the NPC during its opening session. That speech may highlight Beijing’s concerns as it forecasts the government outlook for the economy in 2018.
The report also will provide details about another closely watched item, China’s military spending.
Zhang said China will see a moderate increase in its military budget this year, but argued that was to make up for a shortfall from previous years, upgrade equipment, and improve training and living conditions at the grassroots level for troops, among other reasons.
Zhang did not say how much of a percentage increase China might see this year in its defense spending, but he stressed that the country’s military does not threaten anyone.
Analysts tell VOA that spending could grow by about 10 percent, but they note that the real figure is perhaps much larger.
“China’s defense budget takes up a smaller share of its gross domestic product [GDP] and national fiscal expenditure than other major world countries. Its military spending per capita is also lower than other major countries," he said.
Last year, China disclosed that it spent nearly $165 billion on its military about one-fourth of what the United States plans to spend on defense this year.
Despite assurances, China’s broader strategic intentions are still something that Washington and other countries in the region watch closely.
Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, China has begun assuming a bigger role on the global stage and has launched several initiatives of its own, including a massive trillion-dollar trade and infrastructure project called the “Belt and Road” initiative.
During this year’s annual meetings, China’s communist party aims to solidify its self-proclaimed position as the only political organization qualified to rule the country, with the passage of 21 constitutional amendments.
One key amendment in the package is a proposal to scrap restrictions regarding the number of terms the president can serve in office. The proposal paves the way for Xi to become China’s president indefinitely, although state media denies Xi will be granted tenure for life.
When asked, Zhang did not respond to the question of whether the changes would give Xi lifelong tenure. He only said that the amendments would help unify the country’s leadership under Xi as China’s “core leader.”
The proposal, along with China’s growing ambitions to showcase what it calls the China model or "China Solution” has led to concerns that Beijing’s communist leaders will seek to spread their model of rule.
Zhang said that each country has its own development path and model, and Beijing will not import models from other countries, nor will it export its own.
“We will not ask other countries to copy China’s practices, but of course if some countries are interested in learning China’s experiences and practices, we are ready and willing to share our experiences with them,” Zhang said.
Zhang added that China will not impose anything on others and has no intention of overthrowing the existing international order or trying to start again.