Beijing relieved but US firms offer mixed reactions

China's relief elicited mixed reactions from US business leaders after talks last week between the world's two largest economies.
China's relief elicited mixed reactions from US business leaders after talks last week between the world's two largest economies. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • China's government yesterday praised a significant cooling of trade tensions with the United States, saying mutual agreement was in both nations' interests, while state media trumpeted what it saw as Beijing's refusal to surrender to US economic threats.

China's relief, coming after talks last week between the world's two largest economies, elicited mixed reactions from US business leaders, with some happy to see the prospect of tariffs fade and others saying it would be hard for the Trump administration to regain momentum to address what they see as troubling Chinese policies.

In an interview earlier with CNBC, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin characterised the US tariff plan as suspended. "If these things aren't fixed and we don't get what we want, the President can always put tariffs back on," Mr Mnuchin said.

Speaking at a daily briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said both countries had clearly recognised that the reaching of a consensus was good for all.

"China has never hoped for any tensions between China and the United States, in trade or other arenas," Mr Lu said.

But the Chinese media was also quick to point out how the country had successfully defended its interests.

On the WeChat account of the overseas edition of the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, Dr Mei Xinyu, a Commerce Ministry researcher, wrote that the agreement preserved China's right to develop its economy as it sees fit, including moving up the value chain.

The deal also focused on China's "positive position" to increase imports rather than a "negative position" of getting it to cut exports, Dr Mei said.

The official China Daily said everyone could heave a sigh of relief at the ratcheting down of the rhetoric, and cited China's chief negotiator, Vice-Premier Liu He, as saying the talks had proved to be "positive, pragmatic, constructive and productive".

"Despite all the pressure, China didn't 'fold', as US President Donald Trump observed. Instead, it stood firm and continually expressed its willingness to talk," the English-language newspaper said in an editorial.

"That the US finally shared this willingness means the two sides have successfully averted the head-on confrontation that at one point seemed inevitable."

The People's Daily said that in the energy and agriculture sectors, the two countries had obvious synergies, with the US having the capacity to satisfy the massive Chinese market. "The ballast stone of Sino-US ties are an equal and mutually beneficial trade and business relationship. Its essence is win-win cooperation," it said.

But China was not being forced to increase imports as a way to ward off the trade tensions or because the country had submitted to outside pressure, the newspaper said in a commentary.

China will naturally need to import more to satisfy demand from its increasingly affluent consumers, the newspaper wrote.

"Trade wars have no winners," it added in the commentary.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 22, 2018, with the headline 'Beijing relieved but US firms offer mixed reactions'. Print Edition | Subscribe