‘Don’t count on a Xi-Trump sit-down’ at the G20 to settle the trade war between China and the United States

  • Rhetoric and domestic pressures stand in the way of the two countries reaching a deal, analyst says
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2018, 4:36pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2018, 11:50pm

China and the United States will struggle to resolve their trade war even if the leaders of the two countries agree to a breakthrough meeting at the G20 summit this month, a prominent Chinese academic said.

On the sidelines of the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore on Wednesday, Zha Daojiong, professor of international political economy at Peking University, said a sit-down in Buenos Aires between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Donald Trump was not expected to bring an end to the months-long trade dispute.

“It is difficult because both sides, especially the US, have espoused very strong rhetoric,” Zha said. “It is difficult for the US to do anything because anything that the US agrees to may attract criticism for Washington softening its position too quickly.”

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A day earlier, Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishan said China was open to trade talks, but warned that “negativity and anger” would not be the way ahead.

“The Chinese side is ready to have discussions with the US on issues of mutual concern, and work for a solution on trade that is acceptable to both sides,” he said. “China will stay calm and sober-minded, and embrace greater openness to achieve mutual benefit and win-win results.”

Wang made the remarks at the start of the two-day forum, which aims to rival the annual World Economic Forum gathering in Davos. The event was originally expected to be held in Beijing, but was moved to Singapore after the dates clashed with a high-profile import fair in Shanghai, and the trade war erupted between China and the United States.

Zha said that if the two countries were to reach a consensus it would “need to be a process” rather than the result of a meeting in Buenos Aires.

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The Trump administration has repeatedly called for a more level playing field for US businesses in China, as well as structural changes to China’s economy and industrial policies, requests that observers said Beijing was unlikely to give ground on.

“The Chinese side also faces domestic pressures, so what concessions can the government actually offer?” Zha said. “It’s a challenge.”

He also rejected suggestions that the trade war and broader strategic tensions between the two countries signalled the start of a new cold war.

“It’s not like the US and the Soviet Union at all,” he said. “There is no new cold war.”