China still preparing for trade talks despite US threat

Experts told The Straits Times that Beijing remained unperturbed by the tariff threats, which it sees as a familiar negotiating tactic.
Experts told The Straits Times that Beijing remained unperturbed by the tariff threats, which it sees as a familiar negotiating tactic. PHOTO: AFP

Negotiators getting ready to travel to US even after Trump's tweet that he will hike tariffs

China has said its negotiators are still preparing to travel to the United States for an 11th round of trade talks, despite President Donald Trump's latest tariff threat aimed at pushing Beijing to strike a deal.

Mr Trump tweeted on Sunday that he would increase tariffs from 10 per cent to 25 per cent on US$200 billion (S$273 billion) worth of imports from China this week.

Calling it "a situation that has appeared many times before", Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters yesterday that China's positions are clear and the US side is well aware of them.

"It is still our priority to make progress in our trade talks and we hope the US side can work together with us and move in the same direction so we can achieve a deal that can benefit both sides," he said.

While the remarks calmed speculation that Beijing was reconsidering negotiations after Mr Trump threatened that more tariffs would come into force soon, Mr Geng did not say if Vice-Premier Liu He, China's top trade negotiator, would be part of the delegation. The talks were slated to be held tomorrow.

Mr Trump's tweets appeared to have caught Beijing off guard, especially after US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last week that the two sides were in the "final laps" of discussions.

Chinese media did not report on the tweets, in which Mr Trump also expressed dissatisfaction with the "slow" pace of progress, which he blamed on Beijing's attempts to renegotiate.

 
 
 

Editor-in-chief of the nationalist Global Times Hu Xijin tweeted that Mr Trump's threat meant it was "very unlikely" Mr Liu would still be heading to the US. However, he qualified that by saying a Chinese team might still go and "this should be seen as a sign of goodwill from the Chinese side".

Independent financial analyst Liang Hongda noted that Chinese markets yesterday were roiled by Mr Trump's remarks. Both the Shanghai Composite Index and the Shenzhen Composite Index fell by more than 5 per cent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index was down 3 per cent.

But Chinese experts told The Straits Times that Beijing remained unperturbed by the tariff threats, which it sees as a familiar negotiating tactic.

Professor Jia Qingguo, dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, said Mr Trump's tweets were meant to show his base that he had been tough on China.

"Some people in the US feel negotiations have been going smoothly because he's been too soft on China, so he's trying to disprove that," Prof Jia said.

"Even if it's for a domestic audience, it's a highly irresponsible tactic that risks bringing Sino-US negotiations to a standstill, or worse, deepening the trade war."

Agreeing, Prof Su Hao of the China Foreign Affairs University noted that recent rhetoric out of the US has been to label China as a threat to be contained. This included discussions last week by the US State Department to develop a strategy for China based on the idea of a clash of civilisations, he said.

Prof Su noted how, on previous occasions, Mr Trump had backed down from his threats at the last minute. Earlier this year, he postponed indefinitely a March 1 deadline for additional tariffs just days before it took effect, citing progress in talks.

"This is just one of Trump's strategies to raise the bargaining power of the US while applying maximum pressure on China," said Prof Su.

"At this critical and difficult stage of negotiations, we need to remain calm and not become too hyped up or pessimistic because of words."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 07, 2019, with the headline 'China still preparing for trade talks despite US threat'. Print Edition | Subscribe