Source: Global Times Published: 2018-8-22
China and the US were set to resume their often contentious trade talks on Wednesday in Washington with both sides remaining circumspect about a possible breakthrough, considering the delegations are being led by a Chinese vice minister and a US under secretary.
Chinese experts said at best the new round of consultations might produce a road map that could temporarily ease tensions, but are likely to fall short of establishing a détente in the China-US trade war.
The Chinese delegation, led by Vice Minister of Commerce Wang Shouwen, will hold talks with a delegation led by David Malpass, US Treasury Department's Under Secretary for International Affairs, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said at a routine press conference on Tuesday.
The Chinese delegation flew to the US capital after "repeated invitations" from the US, Lu said. Chinese experts noted the talks are consultations, not negotiations.
"A negotiation focuses on substantive matters, whereas a consultation is a discussion in preparation for negotiations," said He Weiwen, a former economic and commercial counselor at the Chinese consulates in San Francisco and New York, adding that this round of vice-ministerial consultations is preliminary work that could lead to further consultations and eventually higher-level negotiations.
"Talks are always better than no talks, but the key will be the Trump administration's sincerity and credibility," He told the Global Times on Wednesday.
Just two days before the consultations were set to begin, Trump appeared to pour cold water on any hope of a significant outcome. He told Reuters on Monday that he did not "anticipate much" and that resolving the trade dispute will "take time because China's done too well for too long, and they've become spoiled."
That's the kind of incendiary comment from Trump that has led analysts to say China needs to be very cautious when attempting to engage the US in serious trade negotiations.
"Since we are going to talk to each other, we certainly hope the talks will lead to good outcomes. But we prefer no unnecessary prejudgments or predictions," Lu said at Tuesday's press conference.
Ten days after a consensus agreement appeared to have settled the trade conflict in May, the Trump administration tore up the joint statement and imposed additional tariffs on Chinese goods.
The current round of consultations might produce a "road map" representing the principles and common goals that will guide future negotiations, said An Gang, a member of the Pangoal Institution, a Beijing-based think tank.
"Both China and the US need to show they are willing to talk despite the frictions," An told the Global Times on Wednesday.
In an interview with Reuters on Monday, Trump upped his accusatory rhetoric saying China was manipulating its currency in order to lessen the impact of tariffs.
"Trump's words are nonsense and meaningless. The main cause is the appreciation of the US dollar, it is not the yuan's problem at all," He Weiwen said, noting that many currencies around the world have lost ground to the US dollar.
A Wall Street Journal report on Monday quoting "officials from both nations" said that "if all goes well [during the consultations], the two sides would figure out a way to end the trade dispute ahead of planned meetings" between the leaders of the two countries at multilateral summits scheduled for November.
In November, two major multilateral events, the annual G20 summit and APEC meeting, will take place in Argentina and Papua New Guinea, respectively.
At Tuesday's news conference, Lu didn't confirm the Journal's report predicting a China-US "summit meeting later this year."
The US midterm elections could also be a critical factor impacting future trade talks, Diao Daming, an American studies expert and associate professor at Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
Diao warns that the Trump administration may try to reach some non-binding, temporary agreement with China before November and then "flaunt" it to gain voter support.
"This means even if the talks bring some outcomes, the untrustworthy Trump administration might just rip it up again. China-US frictions on trade have become a new normal, so China had better abandon any wishful thinking that a solution is at hand. We should continue positive talks, but we must safeguard our interests," Diao said.