China rejects US trade talks and vows not to back down

The flags of US and China flutter in front of a portrait of late Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong at the Tiananmen gate in Beijing on Nov 8, 2017.
The flags of US and China flutter in front of a portrait of late Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong at the Tiananmen gate in Beijing on Nov 8, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

Beijing indicates that negotiations will not be restarted without a US compromise

China has made clear that it would not engage in trade talks with the United States or make concessions under the shadow of US sanctions.

Chinese officials also indicated yesterday that the country would not back down in the ongoing spat with the US, despite suggestions from the Trump administration that China was willing to come to the table.

At a regular press conference, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang confirmed that negotiations over trade were not taking place amid the escalating tariff threats, and hinted that talks would not be restarted without a US compromise.

"On the one hand, the US is brandishing the big stick of trade sanctions, while on the other, it keeps saying it is willing to negotiate," he said. "I don't know who the US side is putting on this show for."

China's firm stance revived fears of a trade war - a scenario US officials had appeared keen to dispel.

At the ongoing Boao Forum, Vice-Commerce Minister Qian Keming said that while China did not want to engage in a trade war with the US, it was not afraid of one.

He said the global value chain could be disrupted by such a trade war, and urged countries to defend the global trading order.

It has been a tense stand-off since Washington unveiled proposed tariffs on US$50 billion (S$66 billion) worth of Chinese goods last Tuesday, and China reciprocated swiftly.

President Donald Trump upped the ante last Thursday when he asked US trade officials to identify tariffs on another US$100 billion worth of imports.

While Beijing has promised a "fierce" response to this, the US has softened its tone. Mr Trump had tweeted on Sunday that "China will take down its trade barriers because it is the right thing to do".

"Taxes will become reciprocal, and a deal will be made on intellectual property," he said.

Mr Geng indicated, however, that China was not budging for now.

"Officials from both sides have not conducted any negotiations on economic and trade issues for some time, and under current circumstances, it is even more unlikely that both sides will conduct any negotiations on this issue," he said.

"The Sino-US economic and trade conflicts were initiated by the US side, and the responsibility rests entirely with the US side," he added.

Mr Trump, meanwhile, had referred to his personal friendship with Chinese President Xi Jinping and insisted the two men will always be friends, no matter how the trade issue plays out. He had added: "Great future for both countries!"

His tweet echoed the position of a number of US officials, who at the weekend appeared on US television playing down the prospects of a trade war.

But neither stock markets nor the US public were buying this rhetoric, said Mr Geng. Crude oil and global equity markets tumbled at the weekend as investors worried about the impact a full-blown trade war would have on the world economy.

"As the possibility of a China-US trade war increases, American pessimism is on the rise," nationalistic tabloid Global Times said in an editorial. It noted that Chinese trade officials' comments last week that negotiations were not happening "caused panic throughout US investment communities".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2018, with the headline 'China rejects US trade talks and vows not to back down'. Print Edition | Subscribe