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Chinese debate high-level trade talks

  • Source: Global Times
  • Feb.25,2019

As Chinese and US officials continue with their extended trade negotiations in Washington and initial details emerge from the meetings, a debate on how much China gives in to secure a trade deal to avert a tariff war has started in China, with some expressing fears that China might have compromised too much.

But others, including some top experts, argue that certain compromises are necessary to end the trade war and safeguard China's long-term development plan, as long as officials hold firm to their bottom line to pursue reform and opening up at the pace best for the country's development stage.

Chinese and US officials decided on Friday to extend their latest round of talks in Washington, which were previously scheduled for February 21 and 22, for another two days over the weekend, as they hailed major progress made during the high-level meetings.

The extension and other signs, including discussions about memoranda of understanding (MOUs) on trade balance and structural reforms, from the negotiations suggest that the world's two biggest economies may be very close to a deal, analysts noted.

Concerns among the public 

However, there is certain level of unease on popular Chinese social media platforms following details about a potential trade deal and commitment that Chinese negotiators may have made during the talks.

One of the details that drew widespread attention and some concern in China was an exchange between US President Donald Trump and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer at a meeting in the Oval Office with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, who is leading the Chinese delegation, on Friday, US time.

In the exchange, Trump said, "I don't like MOUs because they don't mean anything" and asked for a "binding contract," even after Lighthizer told him MOUs are generally used in trade agreements. The episode left some to speculate that Trump's demand might derail talks and that a "binding contract" might not be in China's interest.

"Given that both sides really want to end the trade war, I think the talks will not be disrupted too much," Huo Jianguo, vice chairman of the China Society for World Trade Organization Studies, told the Global Times on Sunday.

Another item that sparked speculation that China was giving in too much was an announcement from the US that Chinese officials had promised to buy more US soybeans. US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue tweeted on Friday that China has committed to buy an additional 10 million metric tons of soybeans from the US.

"Constantly making concessions is not the way to negotiate," a Sina Weibo user said. 

Necessary compromises

To address the trade dispute, both sides have to make necessary compromises, even if some of the compromises are not in the best interests of one side, said Bai Ming, deputy director of the Ministry of Commerce's International Market Research Institute.

Huo noted that the US must also make concessions, "otherwise, the negotiations would not have reached where it is now." 

The US might have agreed to lift tariffs on Chinese goods, ease restrictions on high-tech exports to China, and stop politically charged crackdowns on Chinese telecom companies, Huo said. 

Bai stressed that as long as China could safeguard its right to pursue a development path on its own, "some short-term compromises are necessary and worth making."

Trump has suggested in recent days that he might allow Huawei to compete fairly in the US. "I'd like to have all companies be able to compete.  I don't want to artificially block people out based on excuses or based on security," he said at the Oval Office meeting.

Analysts said that the nearly one-year long trade standoff has shown that neither side would surrender under pressure and that only a final agreement on equal footing could end the trade war.