Japan's Aso, Chinese officials endorse global trade system

Japan's finance minister and Chinese officials have pledged support for the multilateral system of global trade regulation ahead of a possible new round of U.S. tariff hikes in a battle over Beijing's technology policy.

Taro Aso, who was in Beijing for financial talks, made no mention of China's tariff war with President Donald Trump but said Friday that the two sides agreed "protectionist measures" help no country.

Aso gave no indication whether they discussed Chinese industrial policies and curbs on foreign business that are the core of disputes with Washington, Europe and other trading partners.

Trump has raised tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese imports in a spiraling dispute over Beijing's plans for state-led creation of champions in robotics and other fields and complaints the communist government steals or pressures companies to hand over technology.

The Trump administration is poised to impose penalties on an additional $200 billion of Chinese imports. Beijing has said it will retaliate.

Trump's decision to take action under U.S. law instead of through the World Trade Organization prompted complaints from Japan, Europe and other American allies that he is undermining the global trading system.

Aso met Friday with his Chinese counterpart, Liu Kun. On Thursday, he had talks with Beijing's chief envoy in the dispute with Washington, Vice Premier Liu He, and another vice premier, Han Zheng.

Aso's comments reflected the effort by other governments to express support for trade while avoiding a formal alliance with Beijing. The European Union and other trading partners echo U.S. complaints about Chinese market barriers and industrial policy.

"On trade, we agreed that protectionist measures that lead to inward-looking policies do not benefit any country, and to maintain and propel a multilateral, free and open rules-based trade system," said Aso at a news conference.

Chinese leaders have tried without success to recruit Germany, France, South Korea and other governments as allies against Washington.

Han, the vice premier, issued a similar endorsement of trade in comments reported Thursday by the official Xinhua News Agency. It said Han promised China would "promote trade and investment liberalization" but gave no details.

Other governments including Germany complain Beijing is hampering business activity by blocking foreign purchases of most Chinese assets at a time when the country's own companies are on a global acquisition spree.

Beijing's relations with Tokyo have been strained in recent years over territorial disputes and China's military ambitions. But Beijing has downplayed those disagreements this year, possibly in an effort to win Japanese support against Trump.

On Wednesday, Japanese reporters boycotted Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's meeting with a Japanese deputy foreign minister, Takeo Akiba, after the Chinese government refused to admit a reporter from the Sankei Shimbun newspaper. The conservative Sankei Shimbun has been critical of China.

A Japanese government spokesman said Tokyo lodged a formal protest with Beijing. The Foreign Correspondents Club of China criticized such "selective denial of access" in a statement.