China is the 'bigger risk' in trade war, not Trump: CEO

  • President Donald Trump has made clear that he has no intention of backing down on trade tensions with China.
  • Doubts over whether Beijing will be willing to compromise on a potential trade deal with the U.S. makes it a "bigger risk" than Washington, said Martin Gilbert, co-chief executive of Standard Life Aberdeen, on the sidelines of the Singapore Summit.

Beijing could be the wildcard in trade negotiations with Washington, according to Europe's second-largest fund manager.

"The bigger risk of a trade war lies in the Chinese side rather than the U.S. side," said Martin Gilbert, co-chief executive of global investment firm Standard Life Aberdeen.

President Donald Trump is used to making compromises in deal-making, Gilbert told CNBC's Nancy Hungerford on the sidelines of the Singapore Summit over the weekend. But "whether China will do that, I think is the bigger risk," he continued.

Trump has made clear that he has no intention of backing down on retaliatory tariffs that threaten to disrupt global supply chains, even as Washington and Beijing prepare to meet later this month to resolve their differences.

The White House is reportedly planning a fresh round of duties on up to $200 billion of Chinese goods. If that takes place, Chinese President Xi Jinping's administration may not want to participate in bilateral talks, The Wall Street Journal announced on Sunday.

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Trump's negotiating tactics stem from his 'Art of the Deal' philosophy, "which is ask for five billion when you want one billion," Gilbert stated. "I think he'll always settle for less than he is asking for," Gilbert continued, adding that he expected the two parties to eventually reach a compromise.

Standard Life Aberdeen, which operates in China, was created following last year's merger between Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management. It reported $790 billion in assets under management and administration in the first six months of the year.

When asked how his company stood in relation to China's asset players, Gilbert noted the latter group enjoyed a "huge advantage" over their foreign counterparts.

"China's very clever at getting you in and probably making sure you don't make too much money," he said.