US-China trade talks make little headway

US and Chinese negotiators wrapped up a round of trade talks on Wednesday without visible signs of progress and put off their next meeting until September, extending an uneasy truce between the world's two largest economies for at least a month.
(From far left) US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He at the Xijiao Conference Centre in Shanghai yesterday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
(From far left) US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He at the Xijiao Conference Centre in Shanghai yesterday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Beijing says both sides had constructive exchanges but blames lack of progress on US

The latest round of talks between the United States and China's trade negotiators ended with a whimper yesterday, despite a change in setting from Beijing to Shanghai.

Discussions at the Xijiao State Guest Hotel ended 40 minutes ahead of schedule. Neither delegation spoke to reporters before US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin left for the airport in the early afternoon.

China's Commerce Ministry later said that the two sides had "frank, efficient and constructive" exchanges, and that they had discussed more Chinese purchases of American farm produce, a key demand by US President Donald Trump. The two teams will next meet in Washington next month.

While expectations of major breakthroughs were low, given that this was the first face-to-face meeting between negotiators since Mr Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping called a truce to the trade war in June, state media blasted Mr Trump for making provocative remarks on the eve of the talks.

On Tuesday, Mr Trump accused China of dragging its feet in hopes of a better deal after the 2020 US presidential elections, just as Mr Lighthizer and Mr Mnuchin were arriving in Shanghai.

"The biggest problem for a trade deal is that China would love to wait and just hope," Mr Trump had said.

"They would just love if I got defeated so they could deal with somebody (else), because then they'd be allowed and able to continue to rip off our country like they've been doing for the last 30 years."

State-run People's Daily and nationalist tabloid Global Times yesterday accused the US of insincerity and using non-constructive tactics that risked torpedoing the talks before they had even commenced.

"The US has to change its bad habit of using tough talk to cheer on its negotiating team, which easily undermines the fragile mutual trust between China and the US," the Global Times said in an editorial.

 
 

Ms Hua Chunying, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, also blamed the lack of progress on the US, and told a briefing yesterday that, after a year of negotiations, "everyone can see for themselves which is the party that has gone back on its word and proved itself fickle-minded and untrustworthy".

The "basically fruitless" outcome of the latest talks shows that both countries remain far apart on fundamental issues, said Professor Shi Yinhong of Renmin University.

"The lack of any substantial agreement to relieve the US' severe crackdown on Huawei, for instance, confirms that China and the US have not moved from their respective negotiating positions," he said.

Professor Jia Qingguo of Peking University said that the likelihood of an agreement remains slim as long as President Trump seeks to extract maximum benefit for the US, while using China as a bogeyman.

"His considerations are how much the negotiations can help his re-election campaign, without any thought for China's interests," said Prof Jia. "This strategy of confrontation and hostility is very difficult for China to accept."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2019, with the headline 'US-China trade talks make little headway'. Print Edition | Subscribe