China watching Trump policies, will defend trade rights
A magazine featuring a cover story about US President-elect Donald Trump is seen at a news stand in Beijing on November 23, 2016 (AFP Photo/Greg Baker)

China will pay close attention to trade policies implemented by US President-elect Donald Trump, and will defend its rights in the World Trade Organization, a senior Chinese official said Wednesday.

In a campaign punctuated by incendiary accusations, Trump promised to declare China a currency manipulator on his first day in office, and threatened to slap 45 percent punitive tariffs on Chinese imports to protect jobs.

The Chinese official meeting in Washington, however, said the US has obligations as a member of the WTO.

"Definitely we have paid close attention to the remarks made by Mr. Trump during his presidential campaign," China's Deputy International Trade Minister Zhang Xiangchen told reporters through a translator.

"And we will also (be) closely observing what he will do after he takes office."

But he seemed to cast doubt on whether Trump would follow through on his threats.

"I think after Mr. Trump takes office he will be reminded that (the) United States should honor its obligations as a member of the World Trade Organization," Zhang said.

When asked if China would retaliate, he said that "as a member of the WTO, China also has the right to ensure its rights."

As for the currency issue, Zhang said economists and government officials agree China is not manipulating its currency, and "significant progress has been made" toward establishing a market-based exchange-rate regime.

US and Chinese officials meeting this week for the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade, a forum to promote trade and investment and resolve disputes, feel strongly that the bilateral trade relationship will continue to be important "no matter how the leadership changes," Zhang said.

US Trade Representative Michael Froman told reporters following the final JCCT meeting of the Obama administration that the relationship with China is key, but acknowledged there are "headwinds around the world about the benefits of trade and skepticism on the US-China relationship in particular."

He stressed that "the American public expects the relationship be based on a fair and level playing field, and greater reciprocity."

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker noted that 11.5 million Americans have jobs that depend on exports, making engagement with trading partners critical.

She said there are differences with China that President Barack Obama's administration has fought to resolve. "What we work on is where we face an unlevel playing field."