Chinese and U.S. officials agreed that the two countries should settle their trade disputes through cooperation rather than confrontation.
Liu He, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and director of the General Office of the Central Leading Group for Financial and Economic Affairs, wrapped up his visit to the United States on Saturday at the invitation of the U.S. government.
During his visit, which started on Feb 27, Liu met with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and U.S. Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer to discuss bilateral economic and trade cooperation and other key issues of mutual concern, according to a press release from China's Foreign Ministry on Saturday.
Liu, who is also the head of the Chinese side in the China-U.S. Comprehensive Economic Dialogue, said that President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump have maintained close communications this year through phone calls and letters, pointing the way forward for China-U.S. relations.
He called on the two sides to make concerted efforts to implement the consensus reached by the two heads of state, expand practical economic and trade cooperation, strive to settle thorny issues, promote a balanced development of bilateral economic and trade relations in order to bring more benefit to the peoples of the two nations.
Liu said that China will further push forward its comprehensive reform and opening up, and China and the U.S., with their complementary economies, have huge potential for cooperation.
"A stable economic and trade relationship between China and the United States conforms to the fundamental interests of the two countries as well as the development and prosperity of the global economy," Liu was quoted as saying in the press release.
The visit came at a time when China and many other U.S. trade partners expressed deep concerns over the growing protectionist measures announced by the Trump administration that could lead to a tit-for-tat trade war and a major disruption of the global trading regime.
During his meetings with senior U.S. officials, Liu elaborated China's stance on a number of issues such as trade balance and market access. The Foreign Ministry described the talks as "candid and constructive", and said the two sides agreed that cooperation, rather than confrontation, should be the way forward to solving their economic and trade frictions in order to maintain a healthy development of the relationship.
The two sides agreed to continue their talks on related issues in Beijing in the near future to pave the way for further cooperation. They also agreed that Liu's visit helped promote mutual understanding and cooperation.
Tensions have risen between the U.S. and China after the U.S. initiated a Section 301 investigation last August into China's intellectual property policy and practice, a move that is inconsistent with World Trade Organization principles. The U.S. has also designated China as a major strategic competitor in its latest National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy.
Trump triggered serious global concerns about a trade war when he announced last Thursday that he would sign measures this upcoming week to impose a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports after the U.S. Commerce Department probe under the Section 232 of U.S. Trade Expansion Act of 1962 that found steel and aluminum imports pose a national security threat to the U.S.
World Trade Organization Director General Roberto Azevedo warned on Friday that the WTO is "clearly concerned" at Trump's announcement. "The potential for escalation is real, as we have seen from the initial responses of others," he said in a statement. "A trade war is in no one's interest."
Besides China, Canada and the European Union have protested the announcement and vowed to take countermeasures to protect their own interests.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday called the tariffs "absolutely unacceptable" and said they would cause serious market disruption on both sides of the border. Canada is the largest steel and aluminum exporter to the U.S., while China accounts for less than 3 percent of U.S. steel imports.
The EU has planned a proportional .5 billion penalty on U.S. exports, ranging from blue jeans, orange juice and motorcycles to rice, cranberries and bourbon that are produced in the politically sensitive states of Wisconsin, Florida, Kentucky and other states that voted for Trump.
The U.S. steel and aluminum makers are among a minority that have applauded Trump's announcement. Most, including lawmakers and business leaders, have expressed concerns over the negative impact on U.S. industries and consumers with the rising prices of steel and aluminum imports and foreign retaliation.
It's unclear if Trump will change his mind in the coming days in the face of the strong pushback. On Friday, he tweeted that "trade wars are good". On Saturday, he threatened to impose retaliatory taxes on EU car exports in his response to EU's reaction to his tariffs.