China bemoans 'confusing' US signals amid trade row

China's manufacturing might is front and centre at its largest trade expo, the Canton Fair. Thousands of exporters who have turned up to show off their goods are facing an uncertain future as a bitter trade war rages between Beijing and Washington.
China's President Xi Jinping welcoming US President Donald Trump to the Great Hall of the People in Beijing last year. The two leaders will "probably" meet at a Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires next month, a US official said, as both sides deplored
China's President Xi Jinping welcoming US President Donald Trump to the Great Hall of the People in Beijing last year. The two leaders will "probably" meet at a Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires next month, a US official said, as both sides deplored a badly strained relationship.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Trump-Xi meeting at G-20 likely, as both sides seek to mend ties

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping will "probably" meet at a Group of 20 summit next month, a US official has said, as both sides seek answers for a badly strained relationship that a Chinese official called "very confusing".

"The presidents will probably meet at the G-20 in Buenos Aires," Mr Trump's economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on the Fox News Sunday programme.

But he added that trade talks with China - with each side imposing a mounting series of tariffs on the other, raising fears of a shock to the global economy - had so far been "unsatisfactory".

China's ambassador to the US, Mr Cui Tiankai, raised similar doubts about the relationship between the world's two largest economic powers.

Also appearing on Fox, he said China has grown frustrated in trade talks because of conflicting signals from the Trump administration.

Mr Cui said other ambassadors in Washington shared his frustration.

"They don't know who was the final decision-maker" in the administration, he said. "Of course, presumably the President would take the final decision. But who is playing what role? It can be very confusing."

Chinese officials have complained before about mixed signals from Mr Trump's economic team. One Chinese official appealed in June to "our American interlocutors to be credible and consistent" while another called the US side "capricious" .

 
 
 

The latest airing of grievances occurred at the end of a week that saw a sharp drop in the US stock market, which analysts blamed partly on uncertainties sparked by the trans-Pacific trade dispute.

At a World Bank/International Monetary Fund meeting last week in Bali, global finance chiefs warned that the US-China trade spat, coupled with rising US interest rates and tanking emerging-market currencies, could push the world to financial crisis. They added, however, that there was still time to avert such a disaster.

Mr Trump has levied billions of dollars in tariffs on Chinese imports as he presses Beijing to change restrictive trade practices that he says unfairly hurt American businesses and innovators.

His move comes at a time when the US economy has been growing robustly while Chinese growth has slowed, adding to the pressure on Beijing. But some Americans - like soya bean farmers whose product is being priced out of China's market by its retaliatory tariffs - are also suffering.

The differences between the two sides extend beyond trade, both Mr Cui and Mr Kudlow acknowledged.

Mr Cui complained about a recent incident in which a US navy ship, in a so-called "freedom of navigation" exercise, sailed close to a disputed island claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea, where China has steadily extended its presence.

"This is a very good example of American intervention into Chinese internal affairs," Mr Cui said, adding that US officials would not be pleased to see Chinese warships in the Gulf of Mexico.

Mr Kudlow said relations have "not been positive lately, and we have to have reciprocity in all of these areas: trade, security, military issues. That's what is at stake".

Mr Cui held out hope for the Buenos Aires meeting.

Two earlier encounters between the presidents, he said, had made it "clear that such top-level communication played an... irreplaceable role in guiding the relationship forward. And there is good mutual understanding... between the two".

AGENCE-FRANCE-PRESSE

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2018, with the headline 'China bemoans 'confusing' US signals amid trade row'. Print Edition | Subscribe