Beijing upbeat on US trade talks but South China Sea issue a worry

The US is expected to keep pressing China on longstanding demands that it reform how it treats American companies' intellectual property.
The US is expected to keep pressing China on longstanding demands that it reform how it treats American companies' intellectual property.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • China struck an upbeat note yesterday as trade talks resumed with the United States in Beijing, but also expressed anger at a US Navy mission through the disputed South China Sea, which has cast a shadow over the prospect for improved Beijing-Washington ties.

The US is expected to keep pressing China on longstanding demands that it reform how it treats American companies' intellectual property in order to seal a trade deal that could prevent tariffs from rising on Chinese imports. Negotiations concluded in Washington last month without a deal and with the top US negotiator declaring that a lot more work needed to be done.

Lower-level officials kicked off yesterday's meetings, led on the American side by deputy US trade representative Jeffrey Gerrish. Officials from the agriculture, energy and commerce departments will also participate in the talks, said an Agence France-Presse report.

Higher principal-level talks will take place on Thursday and Friday with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin meeting Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He, The China Daily newspaper reported.

"We, of course, hope, and the people of the world want to see, a good result," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said at a regular news briefing yesterday.

The same day the latest talks began, two US warships sailed near islands claimed by China in the disputed South China Sea, a US official told Reuters. Ms Hua said the ships entered the waters without China's permission and that Beijing has expressed firm opposition and dissatisfaction at the move.

China's navy had tracked the vessels and warned them to leave, Ms Hua added, accusing Washington of provocation and of harming China's sovereignty.

The two sides are trying to hammer out a deal ahead of a March 1 deadline when US tariffs on $200 billion (S$272 billion) worth of Chinese imports are scheduled to increase to 25 per cent from 10 per cent.

 
 

The two sides are trying to hammer out a deal ahead of a March 1 deadline when US tariffs on US$200 billion (S$272 billion) worth of Chinese imports are scheduled to increase to 25 per cent from 10 per cent. Mr Lighthizer, named by President Donald Trump to spearhead the process after agreeing a 90-day truce in the trade war with Beijing, has been a strong proponent of pushing China to end what the US views as unfair trade practices, including stealing intellectual property and forcing US companies to share their technology with Chinese firms.

China has denied it engages in such practices.

Mr Trump last week said he did not plan to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping before that deadline, dampening hopes that a trade pact could be reached quickly. Rising US-China tensions have cost both countries billions of dollars and disrupted global trade and business flows, roiling financial markets.

Asked if the ships' passage would affect the trade talks, Ms Hua said that "a series of US tricks" showed what Washington was thinking.

But she added that China believed resolving trade frictions through dialogue was in the interests of both countries' people, and of global economic growth.

China claims a large part of the South China Sea and has built artificial islands and air bases there, prompting concern around the region and in Washington.

REUTERS

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2019, with the headline 'Beijing upbeat on US trade talks but S. China Sea issue a worry'. Print Edition | Subscribe