American CEOs Caught in Crossfire as Chinese President Warns on Trade

GettyImages-470779504-compressorChinese President Xi Jingping has warned that American businesses could be hurt if the country loses its status as the global champion of free trade, in a not-so-subtle dig at Donald Trump’s protectionist leanings.

During an hour-long speech at the World Economic Form in Davos that quoted Charles Dickens and George Washington, Xi took several swipes at Trump, without mentioning the president-elect’s name.

“Pursuing protectionism is just like locking oneself in a dark room,” Xi said. “While wind and rain may be kept outside, so are light and air.”

“Pursuing protectionism is just like locking oneself in a dark room. While wind and rain may be kept outside, so are light and air.

No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war, he added, prompting an applause from the packed room of delegates.

CEOs have broadly embraced Trump’s election, based on his moves to lower corporate taxes and lighten regulation. Many, however, are concerned that a trade war with China and other big trading partners such as Mexico could push up wages and fan product-price inflation.

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg and Ford CEO Mark Fields are among leaders who have warned that higher import tariffs could derail the U.S. economic recovery.

Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan this week lunched with Xi, who he said was very concerned that a retraction from trade would stymie global economic growth.

“That’s the fear out there,” said Moynihan, who is one of five co-chairs of the World Economic Forum. However, the banker also advised people not to assume that America’s trading relationship with China was in terminal decline.

“I think we’ve just got to let it play out for a while,” Moynihan said. “There’s always around a elections a lot of hand-wringing about what will happen next. When you get into it, everything takes more time. People have to think it through.”