Optimism in the air as US-China trade talks go past deadline

Observers said the appearance of Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He on the first day of what were supposed to be vice-ministerial-level talks was a clear sign of the importance the leadership was attaching to the talks.
Observers said the appearance of Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He on the first day of what were supposed to be vice-ministerial-level talks was a clear sign of the importance the leadership was attaching to the talks.PHOTO: REUTERS

Analysts view it as a good sign that both sides are serious about hammering out finer details of an eventual deal

Trade talks between China and the United States stretched past their expected deadline yesterday, as negotiators worked to resolve a bitter trade dispute between their two countries.

The two-day talks that began on Monday in the Chinese capital were the first face-to-face meeting between officials of both countries since their respective presidents met in Argentina last December.

Mr Steven Winberg, Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy at the US Department of Energy, told reporters in Beijing yesterday that talks had gone well.

"I confirm we're continuing tomorrow, yes," he said, declining to answer further questions.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said yesterday Beijing would release a statement after the negotiations had concluded, but did not give a time for when this might be.

Both sides were working on how to ensure China would follow through on its pledges, reported The Wall Street Journal. The US delegation is expected to leave Beijing this afternoon.

Posting on Twitter late yesterday night, Mr Hu Xijin, the editor of nationalist tabloid Global Times, said talks had not concluded after "two days of tough work".

 
 
 

"This sends a signal: The two sides are in serious talks and working hard to solve the disagreements between them," he wrote.

The US has imposed tariffs on US$250 billion (S$339.6 billion) in Chinese goods, and has threatened to further increase duties on US$200 billion worth of goods. Beijing has responded with tariffs on US$110 billion in US goods, in areas such as agriculture and the auto industry.

Last month, US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping had agreed to a 90-day truce in their trade war, giving their officials time to hash out a deal.

Yesterday, Mr Trump tweeted: "Talks with China are going very well!"

Ahead of the expected end of the talks yesterday, expectations were running high for a positive outcome. US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told CNBC on Monday: "There's a very good chance that we'll get a reasonable settlement."

Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He, who is Mr Xi's top economic adviser and China's top negotiator in the trade discussions, also made a surprise appearance on the first day of what were supposed to be vice-ministerial-level talks.

Mr Liu reportedly made brief remarks at the meeting. Observers said his appearance was a clear sign of the importance the Chinese leadership was attaching to the talks.

Asked about this at a press briefing yesterday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said it was "reasonable" for Mr Liu to make an appearance as he was at the forefront of US-China trade talks.

Analysts viewed the fact that talks had stretched past their deadline as a good sign, and said it could point to both sides being serious about hammering out the finer details of an eventual trade agreement.

Beijing-based economist Hu Xingdou said indications were both sides wanted to reach an agreement, noting that China was especially serious about the outcome.

Since December, Beijing has made some efforts to address US complaints - resuming purchases of US soya beans, suspending import tariffs on US cars and also releasing a draft foreign investment law banning forced technology transfers.

Yesterday, China also approved five genetically modified crops from the US for import, the first time it has done so in about 18 months.

"Both sides have the need to reach a deal, but for China especially - its economy is weakening and is entering a critical period," said Professor Hu.

Dr Wang Huiyao, president of the Beijing-based Centre for China and Globalisation think-tank, agreed both sides were showing the "desire to eventually work out a deal".

"I think the possibility for them to reach a consensus is high," he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2019, with the headline 'Optimism in the air as US-China trade talks go past deadline'. Print Edition | Subscribe