Even as U.S. President Donald Trump encourages European leaders to support his position on setting higher tariffs against China, the bloc's leaders and academics said his administration's actions are "unwise" and will damage global free trade.
"We have taken notice of President Trump's decision to introduce tariffs on steel and aluminum products, and it is not a wise decision," Kris Peeters, deputy prime minister of Belgium, told China Daily in an interview on Tuesday in Ghent, Belgium.
"This is because free trade is not only important for the U.S., but it is also for Europe and China."
The White House said that Trump called French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday to seek their support as the U.S. prepares to impose tariffs on up to billion in imports from China and restrict Chinese investment in the U.S.
Earlier this month, President Xi Jinping had telephone discussions with Merkel and Macron and one point they agreed upon is to fight protectionism and encourage globalization and free trade.
Last week, when European leaders met at their spring summit, they concluded that the measures being taken by the U.S. cannot be justified on the grounds of national security.
The European nations also lamented the U.S. decision to impose import tariffs on steel and aluminum.
The EU was temporarily exempted from the tariffs as it calls for a permanent exemption.
Peeters' response came on Tuesday when he attended a ceremony at automaker Volvo's Ghent factory, which announced it will produce the new car brand Lynk & Co, a Chinese-Swedish car brand owned by Zhejiang Geely Holding Group of China. Geely owns Volvo.
Peeters said he defends free trade and isn't sure the U.S. in the end will raise tariffs on China and other countries. "I hope that we could find a solution in discussion with the U.S., China and Europe," he said, voicing hope a trade war can be avoided.
"That is a great danger and is the main reason to find a solution around the table through dialogue by speaking with each other," he said.
After Geely bought Volvo in 2010, more than 5,000 jobs at the Ghent factory were saved. Four years ago, President Xi Jinping visited the factory before he wrapped up his first European Union tour as president. The factory is Volvo's most productive.
Peeters said he appreciated that Geely, Volvo and Lynk & Co decided to produce autos from the new brand in Ghent.
"It's for us a very positive decision," he said. "That is because Volvo has been positive here in Ghent for years. We are also very happy about the cooperation between Geely and Volvo."
Regarding the trade friction between China and the United States, Fredrik Erixon, director of Brussels-based European Center for International Political Economy, said he is not sure how the world should proceed.
"I don't think there is an obvious solution to this," he said. "We have political leaders in the White House that believe in protectionism and that trade barriers should go up."
Erixon has suggested that Trump's decision will hurt the U.S. economy, but the only way to change it is for the U.S. electorate to vote in new leaders.
Bernard Dewit, chairman of the Belgian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce, said he is also concerned about the looming "trade war" escalation between China and the U.S. because the danger is that the world economy will suffer in the end.
Dewit said worldwide economic growth is threatened by escalation that seems to begin on the U.S. side. He said there are many measures to take to continue with world economic growth, which range from better education and an openness to other cultures to further expansion of the services and financial sectors and favoring environment-friendly development.
Dewit said raising tariffs and erecting trade barriers are not adequate solutions and populist measures are dangerous in the long term.
"If a trade war really happens, everyone, including the U.S., will lose," he said.