China’s Top Economic Official Braces for Possible Trade War

Liu He in Beijing in 2010. As the top economic adviser to China’s president, Xi Jinping, Mr. Liu has sought to make China’s growth less reliant on rising debt and public spending. Credit Nelson Ching/Bloomberg

BEIJING — Over the last year, Liu He, a soft-spoken, American-educated technocrat, has consolidated his status as President Xi Jinping’s top economic adviser, amassing influence that some believe rivals that of the prime minister.

But as his star has climbed, Mr. Liu has struggled to overcome resistance to a program of measured economic liberalization and more open markets that he argues is critical to China’s long-term economic health — and that is generally favored by Washington.

Now, as President-elect Donald J. Trump prepares to enter the White House renewing warnings of China’s economic menace, it will be even more difficult for Mr. Liu to achieve his agenda, which could be overwhelmed by fears of fallout from a trade war.

There is little in his public record to suggest precisely how he would advise Mr. Xi to handle Mr. Trump’s threats to raise tariffs on Chinese products.

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