China seeks trade firewall with U.S. allies in rush of ambassador meetings

China seeks trade firewall with U.S. allies in rush of ambassador meetings

China’s international trade representative held a series of meetings with the ambassadors from major European nations last week to ask them to stand together with Beijing against U.S. protectionism, according to four sources familiar with the discussions, Reuters reports.

Some of the western diplomats involved in the meetings with Fu Ziying, who is also a vice-commerce minister, have viewed the approaches as a sign of how anxious Beijing is getting about the expanding conflict with Washington, the sources said.

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on $150 billion in Chinese imports to the U.S. to punish China for what U.S. government officials regard as its predatory industrial policies and abuse of U.S. intellectual property. Beijing has vowed to retaliate.

Amid the rapidly rising tensions between the two sides, China has sought to seize the moral high ground as a defender of the multilateral trade system, even as U.S. allies express shared concern with Washington over Beijing’s highly restricted market.

The rush of meetings last Thursday and Friday with ambassadors from France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, and the European Union, may be a signal that China is trying to build a firewall against Trump’s aggressive trade measures, the severity of which some foreign diplomats said Beijing had miscalculated.

The individual meetings, which were called by Fu, were generally “non-confrontational” as China sought support in countering the United States, a European diplomat with knowledge of the discussions told Reuters. There were, though, some “subliminal threats” about consequences for foreign companies, this person said.

“The message was that we have to stand together against U.S. protectionism in favor of free trade,” the diplomat said.

“China is showing confidence, but internally they appear quite concerned. They have apparently underestimated Trump’s resolve on trade,” the diplomat said, adding that Beijing is nervous about China’s major trading partners siding with Washington.

Three other diplomatic sources, and three embassies, confirmed that the meetings occurred.

An Italian embassy spokeswoman said its ambassador met with Fu on April 12, and that while the U.S.-China trade dispute was discussed, the meeting was mostly about bilateral issues.

A British embassy spokeswoman also confirmed that its ambassador met with Fu last week as part of regular discussions with the ministry that touched on “bilateral and multilateral trade issues”.

An EU Delegation spokesman said its ambassador attended a meeting with Fu, but did not elaborate.

A German embassy spokesman declined to comment, and the other embassies did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

China’s Commerce Ministry also did not respond to a request for comment.

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