Muted response from China to hard-hitting US report on bilateral trade, ahead of meeting between Xi and Trump

The highly critical report was an update to the US Trade Representative's "Section 301" investigation into China's policies involving transfer of technology and intellectual property, saying China had not done enough to address US concerns. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - China on Wednesday (Nov 21) sought to downplay a newly released report by the United States that accused it of continuing unfair trade practices.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular press briefing that it was "normal" for both countries to have friction over trade.

"I would like to emphasise that the essence of China-US trade cooperation is that it is mutually beneficial and win-win," said Mr Geng, when asked about the report.

"It is normal to have trade frictions, but what is key is to conduct dialogue and consultation based on mutual respect, equality and honesty," he added.

The highly critical report released on Tuesday in Washington was an update to the US Trade Representative's "Section 301" investigation into China's policies involving transfer of technology and intellectual property released in March this year.

The update said China had not done enough to address US concerns over "unfair, unreasonable, market-distorting practices".

Analysts noted that both the update as well as the muted response from Beijing came just over a week before a highly anticipated meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Mr Xi Jinping, at the G-20 summit in Argentina. The summit in Buenos Aires is due to begin next Friday (Nov 30).

Mr Geng was brief in addressing US accusations in the latest report, pointing to a Chinese government white paper on the trade war released in September.

The white paper - which outlined China's position on the trade conflict including its efforts at protecting intellectual property rights - was a "detailed and authoritative response" to the US accusations of technology theft, said Mr Geng.

"I would also recommend that the US read it carefully again," he said.

Chinese experts told The Straits Times on Wednesday the latest US report was meant to exert pressure on China and did not portend well for the upcoming meeting between Mr Xi and Mr Trump.

Dr Wang Huiyao, president of the Beijing-based think-tank, Centre for China and Globalisation, said the US was not acting constructively and not helping to create a "beneficial atmosphere for good talks".

"Both sides should be looking for solutions and having dialogue, and not criticising and attacking each other in the media or public space," he said.

Professor Zhu Feng, director of Nanjing University's Institute of International Studies, said the report represented Washington's official position ahead of the talks between the two leaders and shows that the US will continue to take a tough stand.

"We can more or less predict that the US will not easily make compromises. Trump hopes to pressure China into making concessions," said Prof Zhu.

The experts also said that latest developments meant that it was unlikely for both sides to reach broad agreement over trade issues in Argentina.

"No one is positive about this," said Professor Shi Yinhong of Renmin University.

He said that much of the news and information concerning US-China relations in the past two weeks were pessimistic in nature, adding that it was likely that both sides would only reach "small agreements" on certain trade issues when their leaders meet next week.

"The trade war will go on, and the US will take more measures to escalate the conflict, and this will in turn force China to take more measures of its own," said Prof Shi.

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