China Prepares for Trade Talks Despite Trump's New Threat
By Saibal Dasgupta May 06, 2019
China says its negotiators are preparing to travel to the United States for their next round of trade talks this week, even after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened higher tariffs on billions of dollars of Chinese goods after he complained the process is taking too long.
Trump's comments about the new tariffs on Twitter on Sunday sent Asian stocks and U.S. futures tumbling Monday and added uncertainty over the figure of U.S.-China trade negotiations. Despite the market drop, China's official media stayed silent on Trump's comments all morning.
Hours later, Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters that China is "trying to get more information" about Trump's comments about new tariffs but stressed that Beijing's negotiating team is still preparing to travel to the U.S. for talks this week.
"The tweet is a big wrench in China's foreign trade policy," Nick Marro, Analyst at The Economist Intelligence Unit (The EIU) told VOA. "There were a lot of expectations that at least the groundwork for a deal will be finalized this week," he said, explaining why Beijing should be upset by the new threat.
Tweet with teeth
In his tweet issued on Sunday, Trump said he would increase tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent on Friday. This would mark a reversal of a decision Washington took last February to keep it at 10 percent in the midst of trade talks.
"The Trade Deal with China continues, but too slowly, as they attempt to renegotiate. No!," Trump said expressing dissatisfaction about the pace of trade negotiations and what he considers Chinese attempt to renegotiate some aspects of the proposed deal.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Monday confirmed that tariffs will be imposed Friday. He and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters Trump had learned over the weekend that Chinese officials "were trying to go back on some of the language'' that had been negotiated in 10 earlier rounds of talks. They did not offer details.
Trump also said that his policy of hiking taxes on Chinese goods had paid dividends. "These payments are partially responsible for our great economic results," he said.
He went further saying another $325 billion of Chinese goods which "remain untaxed" will be taxed at 25 percent. He did not specify a timeline for making this change.
In its response Monday, Chinese foreign ministry expressed hope there is no change in the situation and the two countries will continue to strive for an end to the trade war.
"What is of vital importance is that we still hope the United States can work hard with China to meet each other half way, and strive to reach a mutually beneficial, win-win agreement on the basis of mutual respect," Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng said.
What the ministry did not clarify is whether China would send the same envoy, Vice Premier Liu He, as head of the official delegation as originally planned.
Echoing China's confidence that trade talks would not be disrupted by Trump's tweet, Shanghai based expert Shen Dingli said, "China and the U.S. have big and overlapping stakes in bilateral trade. They will overcome any difficulties for a successful outcome of the trade talks."
The tweet has also made it difficult for Chinese President Xi to make a proposed China-U.S. deal acceptable to his domestic audience. Xi does not want to be seen as being bulled into accepting a deal by the U.S., Nick Marro said. "It has shattered the potential optics around the deal. The tweet makes the deal look like China has no choice but to listen to the U.S."
Dingli sees nothing odd about Trump's use of tweet as a foreign policy instrument although this aspect has been widely criticized in some circles.
"America does not have a propaganda department like the Chinese government. Therefore, Trump has invented something that is good for him," Dingli said. "A competent propaganda department has made China powerful. My President does not need to use his own account in WeChat [Chinese social media app] to communicate," he said.
Washington and Beijing have engaged in reciprocal tariff hikes over the last year while negotiators have engaged in lengthy trade talks, alternating negotiations between the two capitals.
Despite an initial goal of finishing by March 1, the two countries have continued to debate several issues, but have yet to complete a deal. Both sides, representing the world's two biggest economies, have said progress is being made.
The two countries have been trying to resolve disputes over intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers. It is not clear whether the tariffs both countries have imposed will remain in place if an agreement is reached.
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