China-US trade talks underscore significance of bilateral trade ties

The trade talks between senior Chinese and US officials last week in Beijing reflect the high significance the two sides attach to their trade ties, according to a Chinese researcher.

Holding talks to avoid possible internecine consequences is a good option for China and the United States after US President Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum on proposed Section 301 measures directed at China in March, said Diao Daming, a research fellow at the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The presidential memorandum opened the possibility of imposing hefty tariffs on the imports from selected Chinese technology and industrial sectors as well as setting restrictions on Chinese investment, while leaving the full scope and application of these measures to be finalized at a later date.

The Beijing visit by the US negotiation team including US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer came at a critical moment when tensions over the China-US trade relations are intensifying, said Diao.

Diao said that Trump was seeking possibilities of dealing with the trade frictions with the world's second-largest economy through dialogue and consultation after he was criticized by domestic interest groups for taking protectionist trade actions against China.

The trade talks closed on May 4 without any written agreements, joint communique or press conference, though Mnuchin described it as "a very good conversation". A much-anticipated meeting between the US delegation and Chinese President Xi Jinping also did not happen.

"Looking back at the past, the China-US relations could be described as a process of divergences gradually transforming into cooperation. And now, although China and the United States have not found a package solution to their trade problems, it would be seen as a responsible step if the two countries can meet each other half way," said Diao.

Despite the fact that the trade talks failed to make a significant breakthrough, Chinese media struck an optimistic note on the trade meeting, after Trump threatened to slap tariffs on up to $150 billion in Chinese goods over allegations of intellectual property theft.

China Daily, the country's biggest English-language newspaper, said that the two countries' commitment to "keeping discussing contentious trade issues, instead of continuing the two-way barrage of tariffs, which pretty much brought the two countries to the brink of a trade war" is the biggest achievement of the trade talks.

The country's official Xinhua News Agency described the talks as "constructive, candid and efficient" but with disagreements remaining relatively big, while the People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, said that the trade talks "laid solid foundation for further talks on trade and economic cooperation, and for ultimately achieving benefits to both countries and win-win results".

Diao said that the trade talks, which the Chinese government is receptive to, shows Beijing's sincerity in reducing disagreements with the United States under the principles of mutual respect and benefit. In light of it, the United States should adopt a pragmatic and negotiating approach when dealing with the trade issues with China, added the researcher.

The intensified trade spat was unilaterally initiated by the United States, which acted under its domestic laws at the cost of damaging the international trade rules. China has hit back at the tough American trade measures with proposed tariffs on American goods.

On Monday, the White House said that Liu He, Chinese President Xi's top economic adviser, will visit Washington next week to continue the trade talks with Trump administration officials.

During his Washington visit earlier this year, Liu told American business leaders that he would take measures to reform the Chinese economy, according to a person familiar with the situation. Liu said at the time that he had three requests for the Trump administration: Establish a new economic dialogue, name a point person on China issues and hand over a specific list of demands, said the person.


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