Senator Elizabeth Warren (Democrat) says she does not fear tariffs being set on Chinese goods. File photo from January 2018: Ron Sachs / CNP via AFP
Senator Elizabeth Warren. Photo: AFP / Ron Sachs / CNP

A prominent American critic of President Donald Trump has backed his plans to “recalibrate” the United States’ economic dealings with Beijing, saying US policies toward China had been “misdirected” for a long time.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, who is on a short visit to Beijing, said US policy needed a rethink and she did not fear tariffs being implemented on Chinese goods.

President Trump has proposed implementing tariffs on Chinese goods amid claims that Beijing systematically misappropriated American intellectual property.

Warren said the US government was waking up to Chinese demands for US companies to give up their know-how in exchange for access to its market, after years of assuming economic engagement would lead to a more open China.

“The whole policy was misdirected. We told ourselves a happy-face story that never fit with the facts,” Warren told reporters on Saturday.

“Now US policymakers are starting to look more aggressively at pushing China to open up the markets without demanding a hostage price of access to US technology,” she said.

Warren discussed trade issues and North Korea with senior Chinese officials, including Liu He, the vice premier for economic policy, Yang Jiechi, a top diplomat, and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe.

China ‘failing on human rights’

She said she told officials she met that Americans cannot support a more integrated economic system with China if it “fails to respect basic human rights”.

China’s ruling Communist Party has tightened controls on society since President Xi Jinping assumed power, from online censorship to a crackdown on activists and non-governmental organizations, though Chinese officials routinely deny accusations of rights abuses.

Warren also made stops in Japan and South Korea, and she said that US allies in Asia were having trouble understanding Trump’s “chaotic” foreign policy.

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and Trump had earlier exchanged insults and veiled threats of war over North Korea’s tests of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, but the US leader made the surprising announcement last month that he was prepared to meet Kim.

Warren said the US needed to get a commitment to discuss verifiable steps to reduce North Korea’s nuclear threat, which would require careful negotiations from a State Department whose role has been vastly diminished under Trump.

Trump’s efforts to “take the legs out from underneath our diplomatic corps” were a “terrible mistake”, she said.

with reporting by Reuters

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