Beijing steps up checks on key US imports

BEIJING • China said yesterday that it had stepped up inspections of key US imports such as pork and cars, just as a high-level delegation visits Washington for key trade negotiations.

The world's two largest economies are locked in a tense standoff with tariff threats hanging over billions of dollars of goods, which many fear could spark a damaging trade war between the economic superpowers.

Vice-Premier Liu He, President Xi Jinping's top economic adviser, and central bank chief Yi Gang arrived in the US capital on Tuesday for a new round of talks aimed at heading off a trade war.

Hopes that the two sides can reach a deal were raised at the weekend when President Donald Trump said he was working with Mr Xi to prevent telecom giant ZTE from going out of business after it was hit by a US technology sales ban.

However, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has said there was a "wide" gap between the US and China, while lawmakers in Washington questioned the offer to prevent ZTE's collapse, citing national security issues.

The Trump administration is considering an arrangement under which the ban on ZTE would be eased in exchange for elimination of new Chinese tariffs on certain US farm products, including pork, fruits, nuts and ginseng, two people familiar with the proposal said.

Yesterday, Mr Trump denied caving in to China over US sanctions on ZTE. "Nothing has happened with ZTE except as it pertains to the larger trade deal," he said on Twitter.

"China has seen our demands. There has been no folding as the media would love people to believe. The meetings haven't even started yet!"

Mr Trump's remarks also followed a report last week that a Chinese state enterprise was pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into an Indonesian real estate development linked to the US President's business empire, prompting questions of possible quid-pro-quo for ZTE.

House Armed Services Committee chairman Mac Thornberry said on Tuesday he did not expect lawmakers would seek to remove a ban on ZTE technology from a must-pass annual defence policy Bill making its way through Congress.

"It is not a question to me of economics, it is a question of security," he said.

Meanwhile, Beijing has taken action to show Washington the value of access to China's market for US goods and firms. "We increased the inspection ratio of American pork," China's customs bureau said. Inspectors are reportedly also taking similar action against US car giants and waste imports, among other products.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2018, with the headline 'Beijing steps up checks on key US imports'. Print Edition | Subscribe