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Chinese ambassador to Ottawa decries ‘looney’ Trump trade tactics, calls for Canadian support

China’s ambassador to Ottawa is making a pitch for Canadian support in the country’s escalating trade feud with the U.S., accusing the Trump administration of “looney” behaviour and trying to sabotage the global trading order.

Ambassador Lu Shaye argues in a toughly worded opinion piece in Monday’s Globe and Mail that the United States is out to destroy the World Trade Organization.

“This looney unilateral behavior is typical of U.S. trade protectionism, which wages war against global multilateralism and free trade,” writes Mr. Lu, who took up his post in early 2017.

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“The U.S. is not only a saboteur of the multilateral trade mechanism and WTO rules, but it wants to aim a flame thrower at global economic development.”

China's Ambassador to Canada Lu Shaye.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

The op-ed is part of a concerted international public-relations campaign by the Chinese government to cast itself as a champion of free trade in its showdown with the U.S., which has moved to slap US$150-billion worth of import tariffs on hundreds of Chinese products. The United States accuses China of forcing foreign companies to hand over valuable intellectual property as the price of entry into the massive Chinese market as well as various other non-tariff barriers.

Mr. Lu has scheduled a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday to talk about the China-U.S. trade fight. Last week, he gave an interview to CBC Television.

Mr. Lu’s British counterpart, Ambassador Liu Xiaoming, penned a similar op-ed piece in the Daily Telegram on the weekend in which he highlighted the significant strides China has made in protecting intellectual property.

Tit-for-tat tariff announcements by the world’s two largest economies sent stocks plunging and global investors into panic mode late last week amid fears of an economically destructive trade war.

On Sunday, U.S. President Donald Trump and other top U.S. officials appeared anxious to tone down the increasingly hostile rhetoric between the two countries. Tweeting on Sunday, Mr. Trump expressed optimism that China and the United States can reach an accord before any tariffs kick in.

“President Xi and I will always be friends, no matter what happens with our dispute on trade,” he wrote of his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping. “China will take down its Trade Barriers because it is the right thing to do. Taxes will become Reciprocal & a deal will be made on Intellectual Property. Great future for both countries!”

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U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin struck a similar tone, appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation. “I don’t expect there will be a trade war,” Mr. Mnuchin said, adding that the United States’ intention is to “continue to have discussions with China.”

China, however, remains defiant, with officials insisting they’re ready to fight a trade war if that’s what the United States wants.

In his Globe op-ed, Mr. Lu says Canada and China share a common interest in standing up to the tactics of the United States, which he accused of flouting WTO rules and destabilizing the global economy.

Canada and China are both victims of the United States’ mischaracterization of trade data and its misguided preoccupation with trade deficits, Mr. Lu points out.

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However, China is generally not winning the public-relations battle on trade in Canada and elsewhere, experts say.

“They are looking for support in a number of countries,” said former Canadian diplomat Ron MacIntosh, a senior fellow at the University of Alberta’s China Institute. “It’s a question of how successful their advocacy is. … It’s not really working.”

Even people who advocate more engagement with China, recognize that Mr. Trump’s “shock and awe” tariff tactics may push the country to further open its economy to foreign investment and trade.

“There is a fairly broad consensus in the United States, and perhaps more in Canada, that China does have some fundamental outlier practices in international trade that are going to have to be addressed,” Mr. MacIntosh said.

Recent polls show that while Canadians narrowly support getting a free-trade deal with China, a much larger share worry about China gaining undue economic and political influence on Canada.

Joseph Pickerill, spokesman for Canadian Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne, said Ottawa is closely monitoring the “evolving” U.S.-China fight. Canada believes in “free trade, in the rules-based institutions and norms that govern it, and in always protecting Canada’s interests,” he said.‎

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