BEIJING -- China denounced Monday the threat of a trade probe by the Trump administration over alleged intellectual property thefts, arguing there was no future in a trade war.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying made the comments at a news conference here. Beijing and Washington "both will be the losers" in a trade war, she added.
At the same time, Beijing announced a total ban on North Korean coal imports in an apparent effort to show cooperation in pressuring Pyongyang.
Frustrated with China's inaction on North Korea, the U.S. is preparing to invoke the obscure Section 301 of a 1974 trade law to launch an investigation.
China assailed President Donald Trump's attempt to link economic issues to cooperation against North Korea's nuclear and missile efforts. "The Korean Peninsula and trade are different issues. The two nations should respect each other and enhance cooperation over these issues," said Hua. "It's highly inappropriate to use one issue to put pressure on the other."
Asked by foreign media whether China would maintain neutrality in the event of a U.S. counterstrike against a North Korean missile launch, Hua said she could not respond to hypothetical questions, and that she hoped the situation would relax to allow for a solution through diplomatic means. Her choice of words signaled a desire to avoid an all-fronts confrontation with Washington.
China continues to strive for reopening stalled six-way talks with North and South Korea, Japan, Russia and the U.S. on Pyongyang's weapons program, Hua said. Her country is maintaining communication with those nations, she said, countering Trump's criticisms that Beijing is not doing its part on the issue.
Hua also said there was nothing yet to report on plans for China's newly appointed special envoy for the North Korean issue, Assistant Foreign Affairs Minister Kong Xuanyou, to visit Pyongyang.
Meanwhile, China's Commerce Ministry said that beginning Tuesday the country would stop key North Korean imports of coal, iron ore and marine products in accordance with United Nations Security Council sanctions agreed upon Aug. 5. The policy was announced to those in trade businesses.
When the Security Council issued similar sanctions in March 2016 banning coal imports except for civilian use, the Commerce Ministry took more than a month to issue a similar notice. The speedy show of compliance this time likely was aimed to demonstrate concrete action on the North Korean standoff. Some think it came in response to expectations that a U.S. trade probe would be announced Tuesday morning local time.
The notice also said articles arriving at customs through Tuesday would be allowed to be processed until Sept. 4. Beijing may have wanted to get the announcement out even before customs bodies were ready for the halt on a practical level.
The U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, was to visit Beijing on Monday night after a stop in South Korea. He is expected to exchange opinions with Chinese military officers on the tension with Pyongyang.