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An Acid Test
Disrupting China-U.S. trade relationship will do no good to the U.S. as well as the world economy
By Lan Xinzhen  ·  2019-05-20  ·   Source: NO. 21 MAY 23, 2019
While meeting the press after the 11th round of China-U.S. high-level economic and trade talks earlier this month, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He stated that the two sides had conducted candid and constructive exchanges and were willing to continue consultations. He also said the two trade talk teams decided to meet in Beijing again soon to push the talks forward.

Liu's remarks stabilized the market unsettled by concerns that the talks might fail, especially after the U.S. announced it was raising tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports from 10 percent to 25 percent.

Although the trade talks started last year after the Donald Trump administration began to slap tariffs on some Chinese imports, the new U.S. action has cast a shadow over the talks. Some onlookers think the new threat stems from the Trump administration's populist policy, especially with fresh elections coming up. Some have pegged it as Trump's bullying negotiation tactic for a more favorable deal at the last moment.

Whatever the case may be, China and the U.S., as the world's two biggest economies, must find a way for more fruitful communication. Besides thinking of national interests, both need to keep the international community and their global responsibilities in mind.

Conciliation will benefit both, while conflict will only cause widespread harm, the reason why the two powers began consultations after the trade frictions emerged. However, in their negotiations, sincerity is the most important factor to build trust and understanding. China has gone into trade consultations as a responsible country and with the utmost sincerity. To show its sincerity in addressing the so-called imbalance in Sino-U.S. trade, China agreed to buy 2.7 million tons of U.S. soybeans in January, following the two leaders' meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, last December. Previously, soybeans were among key commodities used by China to fight back against U.S. tariffs.

Regretfully, China's sincerity did not receive a fair response. Instead of showing reciprocal sincerity, the U.S. has frequently resorted to erratic actions that have undermined the talks. The decision to hike tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports is the most glaring of such instances.

Equality is key to China-U.S. trade talks. However, throughout the talks, the U.S. has been displaying a hegemonic mentality. For example, Washington is demanding that Beijing reduce its $200-billion trade surplus with the U.S. by 2020 and produce detailed figures on the increased purchase of U.S. farm produce it wishes to make. This is not cooperation, but coercion. Trade is based on market supply and demand, not on statistics that must be outlined and met by China.

The inequality in the trade consultations stems from the different mentalities of the two sides. China has been conducting the dialogue guided by the concept of building a community with a shared future for humanity, following peaceful as well as mutually beneficial win-win cooperation. On the other hand, the United States is guided by the idea of "America First," which seeks to curb China's development. This is one of the major reasons impeding the trade consultations.

So far, the two sides have gone through 11 rounds of consultations with the 12th to be held in Beijing. Given the current situation, the Trump administration needs to make some concessions, rather than hectoring China to do whatever it bids. Differences are supposed to be resolved through negotiation so that a deal that is acceptable to both sides is reached, a practice widely employed in civilized society. There must be concessions and compromises during negotiations. Problems can't be resolved if one side mulishly sticks to its unreasonable requirements.

As a matter of principle, there can be no further one-sided concessions. Both sides should clearly realize this. They have reached consensus on some issues with China paying scrupulous attention to U.S. concerns, real or perceived, such as the trade imbalance, intellectual property rights protection and technology transfer. However, from Liu's press briefing, it is evident that the U.S. has paid no attention to China's three core concerns: cancelling all new tariffs, a more realistic trade and purchase target, and a more balanced agreement text.

From the Chinese perspective, it is the new tariffs that caused the trade dispute. So, to reach an agreement, all increased tariffs must be removed. Trade and purchase targets are part of the consensus reached by the two sides in Buenos Aires. They should not be changed later on a whim. The text of an agreement is the final presentation of the results of the consultations and must be worded in a balanced way. There can't be any expression hurting a country's dignity. Liu stressed that China will never bow down where principles are concerned and its core concerns must be addressed.

Disrupting the two countries' trade relationship will do no good to the U.S. as well as the world economy, Washington should realize this. U.S. farmers' grievances against the impacts of the trade frictions, for instance, should serve as a warning to the Trump administration.

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar

Comments to lanxinzhen@bjreview.com

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