China’s ambassador to the U.S. said Beijing has no choice but to respond to what he described as a trade war started by the U.S.
“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.
His comments come amid rising political and economic tensions between the world’s two largest economies, and as international bodies and other countries 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 ramped up the rhetoric 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 got a lecture when he visited Beijing days later, about U.S. actions that were termed “ completely out of line.”
The tough words followed months of increases tit-for-tat tariffs imposed by Washington and Beijing that have ballooned to cover hundreds of billions of dollars in bilateral trade.
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, 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 at the organization’s annual meetings in Bali, Indonesia. “Growth has proven to be less balanced than we had hoped.”
At the close of those meetings, 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 in an interview. The trade disputes are creating “choppy” waters for the global economy, she said.
At the same meetings, Chinese officials received an unusual gesture of support when Mexico’s former president Ernesto Zedillo counseled them 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.”
Read more: Global finance chiefs urge trade war solution
In a recent interview with National Public Radio, Cui said the U.S. has “not sufficiently” dealt in good faith with the Chinese on trade matters, saying “the U.S. position keeps changing all the time so we don’t know exactly what the U.S. would want as priorities.”
The escalating trade row was seen as a contributing factor to last week’s global market rout that sent the S&P 500 and other major U.S. indexes to their worst performances in months.
Larry Kudlow, the White House economic director, said on “Fox News Sunday” that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will “probably meet” at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires in late November. “There’s plans and discussions and agendas” being discussed, he said.
Cui said he was present at two previous meetings of Xi and Trump, and that top-level communication “played a key role, an irreplaceable role, in guiding the relationship forward.” Despite current tensions the two have a “good working relationship,” he said.
So far, talks with China on trade have been “unsatisfactory,” Kudlow said. “We’ve made our asks” on allegations of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers, he added. “We have to have reciprocity.”