China sets up think tank alliance to better understand US as trade war continues

New alliance is yet another effort by Beijing to reduce rising tensions with Washington

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2018, 11:15pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2018, 11:15pm

China is gearing up efforts to improve its analysis of US affairs with the finance ministry setting up an alliance of around 20 top Chinese think tanks to come up with better policy advice as it looks for ways to handle the trade war with the US.

The alliance, comprising researchers from the National Development and Reform Commission and Peking University, will study the latest political, economic and trade situation in the US.

The move follows the Trump administration’s imposition of 25 per cent tariffs on US$34 billion in Chinese imports earlier this month, which led to Beijing retaliating with the same tariffs. The White House also said it would impose tariffs of 10 per cent on another US$200 billion worth of Chinese products by August.

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The alliance was set up on Saturday, but the ministry announcement was made on Monday.

The tit-for-tat trade war has forced Beijing to try and understand what is happening inside the Trump administration. However it has struggled to find clues to the US president’s intentions. Its previous efforts to avert a trade war met with failure, including two trips to the US by Vice Premier Liu He.

Analysts say the new alliance is yet another effort by Beijing to reduce rising tensions with Washington over trade tariffs, but it is still unclear if it will be successful.

Wang Huiyao, president of the Centre for China and Globalisation, which is also part of the alliance, said China’s existing research on US affairs is not deep enough.

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“Beijing wants to know more about the bilateral trade figures and US domestic law. With better research, Beijing’s US policies would be more specific,” he said.

Wang said the alliance’s initial target is to better tackle the trade dispute with the US, and it would probably expand its research areas to other US affairs in the future.

Liu Weidong, a US affairs expert from the Institute of American Studies, another alliance member, said it remains to be seen to what extent Beijing’s policies could be influenced by Chinese think tanks, since research by such groups did not play a big role in Beijing’s policymaking process.

Liu said in addition to forming think tank alliances, China needed to focus more on US domestic policies, such as what state governments cared about before the mid-term elections later this year. This “could help change Washington’s thinking”.

“The dispute would last as long as the US has the upper hand,” added Liu.

Zhou Wuqiang, director of the International Finance and Economics Centre of the Finance Ministry, told China’s state media CCTV on Saturday that the alliance could improve China’s research capabilities and help produce useful policy recommendations on the country’s trade war with the US.

Fu Ying, China’s former vice foreign affairs minister and now chief expert at the National Institute for Global Strategy, said China urgently needed to cope with a changing situation.