In Davos, Chinese premier takes aim at trade ‘barriers’Tue, 16 Jan 2024 17:20:05 GMT

Chinese Premier Li Qiang told the world’s political and business elites in Davos on Tuesday 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 in an effort 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.- Ukraine support -Zelensky took the podium hours later and used the venue to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “predator”.Earlier, he met the “CEOs for Ukraine” group and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.Kyiv is scrambling to ensure that support from allies does not waver during the biggest war in Europe since World War II, as the world’s attention has shifted to the Middle East amid fears of a spillover from the conflict in Gaza.”We are determined to sustain our support for Ukraine,” Blinken said after the talks.Republicans in the US Congress are blocking a renewal of military assistance for Ukraine, and Kyiv and its allies worry about reduced support if Donald Trump wins the US presidential election later this year.European Union leaders will hold talks next month in a bid to approve a 50-billion-euro ($55-billion) aid package for Ukraine that was vetoed in December by Hungary.In a speech, von der Leyen said Ukraine’s allies needed to guarantee stable backing for Kyiv.”Ukraine can prevail in this war. But we must continue to empower their resistance,” she said.Wearing a dark sweater and olive-green trousers, Zelensky was greeted with a standing ovation when he entered the closed-door meeting with CEOs.Australian mining magnate Andrew Forrest told AFP that executives expressed “complete” support for Zelensky.”Lock, stock and barrel, from every country. Doesn’t matter if you’re India, South Africa, China. The guy has support,” Forrest said.- AI fears -Artificial intelligence also dominated discussions at Davos after last year’s flurry of examples demonstrating the technology’s dizzying advances.Despite the excitement, there are worries about the threats posed by AI.Misinformation and disinformation driven by AI ahead of elections in many countries, including the United States, are the biggest global risks this year and next, the WEF said last week.Li said a “red line” must be drawn in the development of AI to ensure the technology benefits society and not just a “small group of people”.He said “good governance” was needed for the technology and the world must avoid “camp-based division or confrontation” over AI.Von der Leyen warned that “Europe must up its game” on the technology and “show the way to responsible use of AI”.