Donald Trump says it is ‘too early’ to resume trade negotiations with China

Contending ‘China wants to talk very badly’, US president boasts that ‘without tariffs, we wouldn’t be standing here’

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 October, 2018, 3:27am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 October, 2018, 4:37am

US President Donald Trump said on Monday that it was “too early” to negotiate with China, almost three months into a costly trade war that has plunged relations between the two countries into their most precarious in years.

“China wants to talk very badly,” Trump said during comments after the White House announcement of the United States, Mexico and Canada Agreement, the new trilateral trade deal that will revise the North American Free Trade Agreement. “And I said frankly, it’s too early to talk. [We] can’t talk now because they’re not ready.”

It was, in fact, Beijing that turned down the latest invitation for a resumption of trade talks.

Watch: Trump taxing another US$200 billion worth of Chinese goods

Those high-level negotiations between US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He, which were proposed by the US side, looked all but set to go ahead until the Trump administration imposed tariffs of 10 per cent on US$200 billion worth of Chinese goods.

Speaking last Tuesday – the day after those tariffs went into effect – Chinese Vice-Minister for Commerce Wang Shouwen said that Beijing would not negotiate with a “knife at its throat”.

On Monday, Trump did not address the fact that his commitment to escalating tariffs had stopped US-China negotiations from resuming. Instead, he proclaimed that punitive duties were crucial to progress in recent trade discussions with other countries, including South Korea, Japan, Mexico and Canada.

Visit to Washington by Beijing’s top economic adviser Liu He cancelled

“Just for those babies out there that keep talking about tariffs – that includes Congress, ‘Oh, please don't charge tariffs’ – without tariffs, we wouldn't be standing here,” he said. Trump has previously called tariffs “the greatest”, and once said the US was built upon them.

Misstating the level of tariffs currently deployed against China, Trump said that his administration was taxing US$250 billion of Chinese goods at “25 per cent interest”.

US$50 billion of Chinese imports are subject to 25 per cent tariffs, and the remaining US$200 billion are subject to 10 per cent, which will increase to 25 per cent on January 1 if Beijing offers no concessions.

“We could go $267 billion more,” he said, restating his willingness to place tariffs on all Chinese imports, even though punitive duties have thus far done nothing to bring about a radical shift in Beijing’s positions on a variety of trade issues, including intellectual property protections, that instigated the US action. 

The Office of the US Trade Representative did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Trump also said the US would be willing to talk with China, but only after a certain period of time, the length of which he did not specify.

China leaves door open for talks but not with US ‘knife at throat’

“It doesn’t happen that quickly,” he said. “If, politically, people force it too quickly, you’re not going to make the right deal for our workers and for our country.”

Those remarks are likely to stoke suspicions in Beijing that Trump is deliberately prolonging the trade war in an effort to curb China’s economic and technological rise, a charge that has been aired numerous times through editorials in Communist Party mouthpiece newspapers such as People’s Daily.

In a potential sign that Beijing has little intention of bending to Trump’s aggressive tactics, the Chinese military has also dropped high-level security talks planned for mid-October with US Secretary of Defence James Mattis.

On Monday, a Defence Department official confirmed that Mattis would not be visiting Beijing. Mattis himself told reporters travelling with him to Paris that “there’s tension points in the [US-China] relationship, but based on discussions coming out of New York last week and other things that we have coming up, we do not see it getting worse. We’ll sort this out.”

China calls off security talks with US Defence Secretary James Mattis

The cancellation comes after a series of military and national security disputes that have added further tension to already strained US-China relations.

On September 20, Washington imposed sanctions on a Chinese state military equipment company and its director after the unit procured arms from Russia.

Following that, Beijing summoned US Ambassador Terry Branstad to lodge formal complaints; recalled a Chinese navy chief from a high-level visit to the US; and denied a request from a US warship to make a port call in Hong Kong.

Last week Beijing’s top diplomat, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, said that tensions and suspicions between the US and China were only natural given the two countries’ differing cultures, histories and levels of development, but called on both sides to work together to save the precarious relationship from irreversible damage.

US is making ‘serious strategic misjudgment’, China’s top diplomat says

The US-China relationship was like a glass, Wang said on Friday at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York – “easily broken but difficult to repair”.

 Additional reporting by Zhenhua Lu and Associated Press