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China-US relations

Donald Trump won’t be at Davos, but trade talks could go on without him

  • US president has cancelled his trip to the World Economic Forum, where he had been tipped to hold a meeting with Wang Qishan
  • Analysts say negotiations are on track and there could be more exchanges between the two sides in Switzerland
PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 January, 2019, 8:30pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 January, 2019, 11:26am

US President Donald Trump may have missed a chance to meet Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishan after he pulled out of the World Economic Forum in Davos, but analysts say trade talks between the two sides remain on track.

Trump said in a tweet on Thursday he had cancelled his trip to the forum, citing the “safety of our nation” as the reason amid a partial government shutdown in the United States as he continues to push for funding for a border wall with Mexico.

“Because of the Democrats’ intransigence on border security and the great importance of safety for our nation, I am respectfully cancelling my very important trip to Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “My warmest regards and apologies to the @wef!”

Donald Trump visits border, threatens to declare ‘national emergency’ to fund wall, and cancels Davos trip

Chinese and US officials at the vice-ministerial level concluded three days of negotiations in Beijing on Wednesday as the two sides try to iron out their differences on a wide range of trade issues.

The South China Morning Post reported earlier that Trump was likely to hold talks at the forum with President Xi Jinping’s close ally Wang, who will lead the Chinese delegation.

There had also been speculation that potential high-level dialogue could lead to a breakthrough on the trade dispute and even reduce tension over the arrest of Huawei Technologies executive Sabrina Meng Wanzhou.

Wang Yong, deputy director of the Centre for New Structural Economics at Peking University, said it was a missed opportunity.

“It is a shame Trump won’t be attending the Davos forum because it would have been a great occasion for the two men to meet,” Wang said.

But he did not believe Trump’s absence from the annual economic conference would affect the ongoing trade talks.

“Even if they were to meet, they would not be discussing the details of the trade negotiations,” he said.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang also played down the cancellation at a regular briefing on Friday.

“I am not aware of any arrangement” for a meeting between Wang and Trump at Davos, Lu said.

He would not confirm whether the Chinese vice-president would meet any US representatives during his stay in Davos.

But Shen Dingli, a China-US relations expert in Shanghai, said progress had been made at this week’s trade talks and the prospect of reaching an agreement had improved.

“Even though Trump will not attend Davos, there could still be the possibility that China and the US may have exchanges at the forum because resolving the trade conflict is a mutual goal,” Shen said.

Meanwhile, Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He is expected to visit Washington from January 30 to 31 to continue the trade negotiations, The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg reported, citing sources familiar with the plans.

Liu – Xi’s key economic adviser – is to meet US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin during the trip, according to the reports.

The world’s two largest economies are now almost halfway through a 90-day trade war truce agreed on December 1 when Trump and Xi met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Argentina.

Few details have been provided of the trade talks in Beijing this week. But when asked on Thursday about China’s stance on key areas and whether it was confident an agreement could be reached, commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng said the two sides had made progress on structural issues.