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JOHANNESBURG – Chinese President Xi Jinping urged fellow leaders of the BRICS emerging economies to “reject protectionism outright” on Thursday during their annual summit in which the United States is being criticized for escalating tariffs on foreign goods.

Xi along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Brazilian President Michel Temer and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa clasped hands and posed for a group photograph on the second day of their meeting in Johannesburg.

The Trump administration’s trade war with China, the world’s second-largest economy, and other major trading partners has given focus to the summit to rally support for what Xi called “common prosperity.”

The Chinese leader criticized the “escalation of protectionism and unilateralism” that he said has directly affected the development of emerging markets.

“We must unlock enormous potential for economic cooperation,” he said, and fight back against protectionism by working through the United Nations, the Group of 20 nations and elsewhere.

The BRICS leaders later signed a declaration in which they agreed to strengthen economic and security cooperation, uphold “multilateralism” and work toward “a fairer international order.”

“We call on all WTO members to abide by WTO rules,” they said in a statement, referring to the World Trade Organization.

A day earlier at the summit, Xi said the world faces “a choice between cooperation and confrontation” amid the trade dispute with the United States in which he warned there would be no winner. U.S. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, accused China of “vicious” tactics on trade.

Putin, for his part, supported the idea of opening regional branches of the New Development Bank for BRICS. “We are negotiating with Brazil on this matter, starting from the fact that after the completion of the issue, the opening of the office in Russia will begin,” he said.

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