At Davos, Chinese premier takes aim at ‘discriminatory’ trade barriers

DAVOS: Chinese Premier Li Qiang told the world’s political and business elites in Davos on Tuesday (Jan 16) that “discriminatory” trade barriers were a threat to the global economy, but the United States defended its restrictions on microchips as a national security measure.

Li’s remarks came as the World Economic Forum’s 54th annual conference is preoccupied with a slew of global risks, including wars in Ukraine and Gaza, climate change and the rapid rise of artificial intelligence.

Li shared the spotlight with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who attended the forum in person for the first time to maintain military support from Kyiv’s allies after nearly two years of war with Russia.

Li spoke just days after a tense presidential election in Taiwan, the democratic island that Beijing claims as part of China.

But the most senior Chinese official to attend the forum since 2017 did not address the election and instead focused on trade, his country’s economy and AI.

“New discriminatory trade and investment measures” had appeared every year, he said, adding: “Any obstacles or disruptions can slow down or block the flow of lifeblood of the world economy.”

Li did not name any countries but Beijing has tussled with the United States and the European Union over trade in recent years, particularly on high-tech and clean energy.

US-China trade tensions soared under the presidency of Donald Trump and have continued under President Joe Biden, whose administration tightened export curbs on microchips to China.


“I want to be clear that these tailored measures are not a technology blockade,” White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said at a separate discussion in Davos.

Sullivan said the measures did not seek to “restrict broader trade and investment” and were instead aimed at preventing strategic rivals from exploiting US technology “to undermine our national security”.

The EU, meanwhile, has opened a probe into Chinese electric car subsidies.

Without naming names, Li said: “There are many examples where one side’s capriciousness undermines mutual trust with others.”

But US and European companies have long complained of obstacles to doing business on a level playing field in China.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said she had “frank” talks with Li in Davos.

“We are very clear and frank on the trade imbalances we have with China,” she told reporters.

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