China’s ambassador to the U.S. has now indicated that Beijing has no choice but to respond to what he maintained was a trade war started by the United States.
“We never wanted a trade war, but if somebody started a trade war against us, we have to respond and defend our own interests,” Ambassador Cui Tiankai said on “Fox News Sunday” in a rare U.S. television appearance.
The ambassador’s comments come in the wake of rising political and economic tensions between the world’s two largest economies.
International bodies and other countries have warned that global growth will suffer if the dispute isn’t resolved.
Cui also dismissed as “groundless” a suggestion by Vice President Mike Pence that China has orchestrated an effort to meddle in U.S. domestic affairs.
Pence increased the tension in a speech Oct. 4, saying Beijing has created a “a whole-of-government approach” to sway American public opinion, including spies, tariffs, coercive measures and a propaganda campaign.
His comments were some of the most critical about China by a high-ranking U.S. official in recent memory. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo was quickly criticized when he visited Beijing days later. He was told that U.S. actions were “completely out of line.”
Earlier this week, the International Monetary Fund cited the trade conflict when it downgraded its outlook for global growth to 3.7 percent this year and next. That is down from the 3.9 percent projected three months ago. U.S. growth for 2019 was forecast to 2.5 percent, down from 2.9 percent this year.
“There are clouds on the horizon,” IMF Chief Economist Maurice Obstfeld told reporters on Oct. 9. “Growth has proven to be less balanced than we had hoped.”
When those meetings ended, finance officials from several countries, including Japan and Brazil, called on the feuding nations to come to a comprehensive agreement on trade issues.
“Our message was very clear: de-escalate the tensions,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde told Bloomberg Television. The trade disputes are creating “choppy” waters for the global economy, she said.
At the same meetings, Chinese officials were lectured by Mexico’s former president Ernesto Zedillo to follow the example set by Mexico and Canada during their recent re-negotiations with the U.S. on the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“Mexico and Canada made clear that they’d rather not have Nafta than having the deal that the U.S. wanted,” Zedillo said. “So I hope China doesn’t blink.”