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China, US mid-level talks another positive sign, bring 'fresh air'

2019-09-18

Source: Global Times    Published: 2019-9-17


China announced on Tuesday that it would send a delegation led by Vice Finance Minister Liao Min to the US for trade talks at the invitation of Washington, another move that analysts say sends positive signals ahead of high-level negotiations planned for October.


At the invitation of the US, Liao will lead a delegation to Washington on Wednesday for a preparatory meeting with the US side ahead of the 13th round of bilateral trade talks, set for October, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) said in a statement on Tuesday.


Liao is also the deputy director of the Office of the Central Commission for Financial and Economic Affairs, which is in charge of drawing up China's economic plans. Vice Premier Liu He, who is leading the Chinese negotiating team, is the director of the office.


His role will inject "fresh air" into the ongoing trade talks between the world's two biggest economies and pave the way for high-level talks in October, analysts said.


'Fresh air'


Liao, formerly a veteran banking regulator, was reportedly in charge of running international economic affairs inside the office before being promoted to the post of deputy director, according to media reports.


Given his post, Liao will have a stronger hand in coordinating different departments and ministries involved in the trade talks, Gao Lingyun, an expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.


"The trade talks between China and US are far more complex than negotiations on any specific issue," Gao said. "The delegation will need to have strong coordination among different departments to lay the groundwork and settle finer details for the talks in October."


A Beijing-based business affairs commentator surnamed Li told the Global Times on Tuesday that while the vice commerce minister headed the mid-level talks during previous preparatory meetings that led to formal trade talks, the change to the vice finance minister could underline hopes to inject some fresh air into the meetings.


Media outlets were quick to pick up on Liao's appointment. The South China Morning Post pointed out this is Liao's first time to lead the Chinese negotiation team.


Liao took part in the 12th round of trade talks in Shanghai. In a group photo published by the Xinhua News Agency, he stood closer to top negotiators than Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen, who led a vice-minister level preparatory meeting to the US in August 2018.


Wang was China's Deputy China International Trade Representative.


He Weiwen, an executive council member of the China Society for World Trade Organization Studies, said that Liao's appointment as the delegation head could signal the preparatory meeting will be focused on tariff issues rather than trade policies, as the Finance Ministry is in charge of tariffs.


China is reportedly trying to make progress in the talks by separating issues, according to media reports.


Lifting expectations


Following a recent exchange of goodwill gestures between Beijing and Washington, the widely publicized mid-level talks could also serve as another positive signal that lifts expectations for subsequent high-level talks.


On Thursday, MOFCOM spokesperson Gao Feng hinted at a regular press conference that a face-to-face working meeting will be held soon to fully prepare for high-level trade talks.


The working-level meeting usually won't be given such a high profile in state media outlets, so the high-profile announcement by Xinhua could be seen as a way to build on the favorable atmosphere that emerged last week and encourage anticipation of the higher-level talks to be chaired by top negotiators from both countries next month.


The meeting is expected to build up the positive trend in the run-up to a potential meeting of top leaders from both countries at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in Santiago, Chile in November, said Liang Haiming, dean of the Belt and Road Institute at Hainan University, who follows the China-US trade talks closely.


The trade war, which has endured for over a year, showed signs of thawing last week.


China announced an initial list of US products to be exempted from its retaliatory tariffs and Chinese companies are asking for quotations for US agricultural products including soybeans and pork. The US delayed additional tariffs on Chinese goods due to be levied from October 1.


He Weiwen is a senior fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.

Key Words: China-US   trade   RDCY   He Weiwen  

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