China’s president offers U.S. possible trade concessions

China's President Xi Jinping delivers a speech during the opening of the Boao Forum for Asia in Beijing on April 10.
(AFP/Getty Images)

Chinese President Xi Jinping set the stage Tuesday for a possible effort to resolve a worsening clash with Washington over technology and trade by promising to cut auto import taxes, improve intellectual property protection and boost imports.

Xi’s pledges at a business conference came as China filed a World Trade Organization challenge over one aspect of its sprawling conflict with President Trump — last month’s U.S. tariff hike on steel and aluminum.

Strains over U.S. complaints that China is flooding global markets with unfairly low-priced goods and pressuring foreign companies to hand over technology have spiraled into the biggest trade conflict since World War II.


Speaking to Chinese and foreign businesspeople, Xi didn’t mention Trump or their dispute. He pledged progress on areas that are U.S. priorities including opening China’s banking industry but gave no direct response to Trump’s demands such as ending requirements for foreign companies to work through joint ventures that require them to give technology to potential Chinese competitors.

Private-sector analysts saw Xi’s speech as an overture to help resolve the standoff that has fueled fears the global economy may suffer a setback if other governments raise their own import barriers.

Trump has threatened to raise tariffs on Chinese goods worth $50 billion. Beijing fired back with its own $50-billion list of U.S. goods for possible retaliation.

In his speech, Xi tried to position China as a defender of free trade, despite its status as the most-closed major economy, in response to Trump’s “America first” calls for import restrictions and trade deals that are more favorable to the United States. The speech was free of the nationalist bluster that increasingly marks Chinese official statements and repeatedly called for international cooperation.

“China’s door of opening up will not be closed and will only open wider,” said Xi at the Boao Forum for Asia.

Xi, the country’s most dominant leader since at least the 1980s, said Beijing will “significantly lower” tariffs on auto imports this year and ease restrictions on foreign ownership in the auto industry “as soon as possible.”

He also promised to encourage “normal technological exchange” and to “protect the lawful ownership rights of foreign enterprises.”

Meanwhile, Chinese diplomats filed a request at WTO headquarters in Geneva for consultations with Washington over Trump’s tariff hike on steel and aluminum.

If that fails, Beijing can ask for a ruling from a WTO panel of experts. China also has issued a $3-billion list of U.S. goods, including pork and apples, for possible retaliation.

Chinese officials deny foreign companies are compelled to hand over technology, but business groups say joint-venture and licensing rules make that unavoidable.

Last month, the United States filed a WTO complaint accusing Beijing of violating its trade pledges by imposing unfair contract terms and allowing companies to use foreign-owned technology after licensing periods expire.