China relieved U.S. trade war is 'on hold'; U.S. business ambivalent

May 21, 2018
China on Monday praised a significant dialing back of trade tension with the United States, with the government saying agreement was in the interests of both countries while state media trumpeted what it saw as China’s refusal to surrender. The cooling of tension elicited mixed reactions from U.S. business leaders dealing with China, with some happy to see the prospect of damaging tariffs fade, while others said it would be difficult for Washington to rebuild momentum to address what they see as troubling Chinese policies. A trade war was “on hold” after the world’s largest economies agreed to drop their tariff threats while they work on a wider trade agreement, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Sunday. The previous day, Beijing and Washington said they would keep talking about measures under which China would import more energy and agricultural commodities from the United States to narrow the $335 billion annual U.S. goods and services trade deficit with China. Speaking at a daily briefing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said both countries had clearly recognized that the reaching of a consensus was good for all. “China has never hoped for any tensions between China and the United States, in the trade or other arenas,” Lu said. But Chinese media was also quick to point out how the country had successfully defended its interests. Mei Xinyu, a commerce ministry researcher, wrote on the WeChat account of the overseas edition of the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily that the agreement preserved China’s right to develop its economy as it sees fit, including moving up the value chain. The deal also focused on China’s “positive position” to increase imports rather than a “negative position” of getting it to cut exports, Mei said.

‘QUIET GLEE’

The official China Daily said everyone could heave a sigh of relief at the ratcheting down of the rhetoric, and cited China’s chief negotiator, Vice Premier Liu He, as saying the talks had proved to be “positive, pragmatic, constructive and productive”. “Despite all the pressure, China didn’t ‘fold’, as U.S. President Donald Trump observed. Instead, it stood firm and continually expressed its willingness to talk,” the English-language newspaper said in an editorial. “That the U.S. finally shared this willingness, means the two sides have successfully averted the head-on confrontation that at one point seemed inevitable”, it said. During an initial round of talks this month in Beijing, the United States demanded that China reduce its trade surplus by $200 billion. No dollar figure was cited in the countries’ joint statement on Saturday. Some in U.S. business groups who had been pushing for tougher measures to pressure China to ease long-standing market barriers on U.S. companies expressed disappointment. James Zimmerman, a Beijing-based lawyer and a former chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, said the Trump administration’s move to walk back its threatened trade actions was premature, and a “lost opportunity” for American companies, workers and consumers. “The Chinese are in a state of quiet glee knowing that Trump’s trade team backed off on sanctions without getting any real and meaningful concessions out of Beijing,” Zimmerman said. But Jacob Parker, vice president of China operations at the U.S.-China Business Council, called the apparent de-escalation in trade tension “a great bit of progress”. “We were never supportive of tariffs, so any actions that can be taken to stop those from being implemented are positive from our view,” Parker told Reuters. -Reuters

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