Trump warns China not to drag its feet

From left: US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He at a meeting in Shanghai in July. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
From left: US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He at a meeting in Shanghai in July. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

His tweet comes as both sides struggle to agree on meeting date

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump yesterday warned Beijing not to drag its feet in trade negotiations in hopes of getting a better deal should he lose next year's presidential elections.

"While I am sure they would love to be dealing with a new administration... 16 months PLUS is a long time to be haemorrhaging jobs and companies," Mr Trump said on Twitter.

"And then, think what happens to China when I win (the election). Deal would get MUCH TOUGHER!"

His comments came as people familiar with the talks said the Chinese and US officials are struggling to agree on the schedule for a planned meeting this month after Washington rejected Beijing's request to delay tariffs that took effect over the weekend.

Despite efforts by Mr Trump to soothe financial markets and portray the talks as making progress, the world's two biggest economic powers have yet to agree on basic terms of re-engagement. The date for a visit of Chinese officials to the US capital has not been set, though that is not necessarily a sign it still will not happen, the sources said.

In conversations over the past week, the two sides have failed to agree on at least two requests - an American appeal to set some parameters for the next round of talks and a Chinese call to delay new tariffs, two of the people said.

Mr Trump went ahead with tariffs on Sunday, doubling down on a strategy that seems to be having the opposite of the desired effect.

Chinese state media reacted by signalling the government is ready to weather the economic turbulence. And Beijing on Monday filed a complaint at the World Trade Organisation against the US tariffs.

 
 

"If the US truly wants to reach a mutually-benefiting and win-win deal with China, some people in the US must honour the consensus, work in concert with the Chinese side and return to the right track with sincerity," the state-run People's Daily wrote in a commentary yesterday.

China's Commerce Ministry did not respond to a request for comment about a meeting date.

Some US officials are trying to keep talks from breaking down because global financial markets are moving with every positive and negative twist in a trade war that may extend into Mr Trump's 2020 reelection campaign. The S&P 500 Index fell 1.8 per cent last month and US Treasury yields have plunged amid uncertainty that is hurting American companies.

The US Trade Representative's office did not respond to requests for comment on the discussions.

Mr Trump has expressed frustration that the talks have not brought the two sides closer to a deal. Last Friday, he lashed out at US firms for complaining about the rising cost of the tariffs he has now placed on some US$360 billion (S$501 billion) of Chinese imports.

The new 15 per cent US duty on about US$112 billion of Chinese products will hit Americans more directly than an existing 25 per cent tax on about US$250 billion of goods, targeting consumer staples ranging from footwear to technology products like the Apple Watch.

A separate batch of about US$160 billion in Chinese goods will be hit with 15 per cent tariffs on Dec 15.

For their part, Chinese officials do not want to be seen as succumbing to strong-arm tactics like tariffs and are wary about setting a meeting date because of Mr Trump's tendency to change tack.

Mr Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, told a briefing in Beijing on Monday that "the most important thing at present is to create the necessary conditions for continuing the trade talks between China and the United States".

BLOOMBERG , AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2019, with the headline 'Trump warns China not to drag its feet'. Print Edition | Subscribe