G20: China’s Xi says rich countries ‘destroying’ trade system

G20: China’s Xi says rich countries ‘destroying’ trade system

Chinese President Xi Jinping accused developed countries of engaging in protectionist behaviour that was “destroying” the global trade system, as he prepared to meet Donald Trump at the G20 summit in Osaka.

“All this is destroying the global trade order,” Mr Xi said in comments that did not name the US but appeared to be directed at the US president. “This also impacts common interests of our countries, overshadows the peace and stability worldwide.”

Mr Xi was speaking a day before he will hold a bilateral meeting with Mr Trump that other leaders hope will help resolve the bitter trade war between the world’s two biggest economies.

Earlier on Friday, Shinzo Abe, Japanese prime minister, said the discontent that had emerged because of globalisation had sparked a “sharp confrontation between states”. But he stressed that it was important that any measures be consistent with World Trade Organization rules.

“I harbour great concern about the current situation on global trade,” Mr Abe said. “The world is watching the direction at which we the G20 leaders are [proceeding]. Now is the time we communicate a strong message for the maintenance and strengthening of a free, fair and non-discriminatory trading system.”

While Mr Xi and few of the other leaders mentioned Mr Trump by name, most of the focus at the G20 is on trade relations with the US amid questions about whether Washington and Beijing can strike a deal.

Mr Trump lashed out at several US allies, including the EU, Japan and India, before he arrived in Osaka. But he struck a softer tone next to some of those leaders on Friday.

Speaking alongside German chancellor Angela Merkel, a frequent target of his attacks, Mr Trump said she was a “fantastic person” and that he was “glad to have her as a friend”. A year ago, Mr Trump lambasted her at a Nato summit in Brussels, stunning some of the other leaders with the personal nature of his attack. Mr Trump on Friday said trade between the US and Germany had reached a “high level”.

“We’ll see if we can do even better, but it’s reached a level that it’s never reached before,” he said.

After slamming India for raising tariffs on American products while en route to Osaka, Mr Trump was friendlier in public when he met Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister. “The relationship with India . . . has I don’t believe ever been better,” he said.

Mr Trump also met Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president on Friday. In an interview with the Financial Times ahead of the G20, Mr Putin praised the US president as a populist leader who understood his voters, and declared that liberalism was “obsolete”.

Donald Tusk, the European Council president, shot back at Mr Putin. “Whoever claims liberal democracy is obsolete also claims that freedoms are obsolete, that rule of law is obsolete and that human rights are obsolete,” he said. “For us in Europe, these are and will remain essential and vibrant rights. What I find really obsolete is authoritarianism, personality cults and the rule of oligarchs.”

Numerous bilateral meetings will be held among the G20 leaders during the two-day summit but the focus remains on the face-to-face meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Xi on Saturday.

Ángel Gurría, OECD secretary-general, told the FT the most important thing at the G20 was for the US and China to lay the groundwork for future negotiations to end their trade war.

“It’s not about the [G20] communique,” Mr Gurría said. “The fact of the matter is trade tensions exist . . . we all know they are there. We are all betting and rooting for Mr Xi and Mr Trump to find common ground.”

Climate change looks set to emerge as another flashpoint at the summit, with Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, refusing to sign any joint statement that excludes the issue at the behest of the US. Speaking in Tokyo before the G20, Mr Macron said climate change would be a “red line”.

“If we do not talk about the Paris accord and if, in order to reach agreement among the 20 in the room, we are not able to defend climate ambitions, it will be without France,” he said. France is seeking language that would be at least as strong as the G20 statement from the Buenos Aires summit last year. That compromise allowed signatories to the 2016 Paris climate deal to reaffirm that it was “irreversible”, while noting the US decision to withdraw from the accord.

Demetri Sevastopulo, Robin Harding and Alex Barker in Osaka