Donald Trump says US is playing ‘nice’ in trade talks with China because of his ‘great respect’ for Xi Jinping  

As the US delegation returns from its two-day meeting in Beijing, Trump has promised ‘to bring fairness into trade … one way or another’

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 May, 2018, 12:58am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 May, 2018, 11:29pm

US President Donald Trump said on Friday that the demands delivered by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other top cabinet officials to their counterparts in Beijing this week were “nice” because he respects Xi Jinping, but added that China was “very spoiled”.

Trump also called for “immediate attention” to resolve bilateral trade issues.

“My people are coming back right now from China and we will be doing something, one way or the other, with respect to what’s happening in China,” Trump said before departing on Air Force One for the National Rifle Association convention in Dallas, Texas.

“I have great respect for President Xi [Jinping]. That’s why we’re being so nice. And we have a great relationship, but we have to bring fairness into trade between the US and China. And we’ll do it.”

In a Twitter post, Trump said he would meet US trade officials on Saturday after they returned from Beijing where they presented Chinese officials with a long list of trade demands.

“Our high-level delegation is on the way back from China where they had long meetings with Chinese leaders and business representatives. We will be meeting tomorrow to determine the results, but it is hard for China in that they have become very spoiled with US trade wins!”

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Trump’s comments came just hours after Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro and other members of the delegation left Beijing. 

The delegation had concluded two days of talks with a team of Chinese counterparts led by Vice-Premier Liu He.

According to a draft framework of US demands seen by the South China Morning Post, Washington asked China to cut the trade deficit by at least US$200 billion by the end of 2020, halt subsidies for industries under the “Made in China 2025” plan, and not resort to retaliatory measures against Washington.

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The US also pushed for better market access for American companies, demanding Beijing “improve” by July its “negative list”, which spells out which parts of the economy are off limits to foreign investment, according to the draft.

In addition, the US demanded that China reduce its tariffs and non-tariff barriers on all products in non-critical sectors to levels no higher than the corresponding US tariffs on Chinese goods.

“The delegation held frank discussions with Chinese officials on rebalancing the United States-China bilateral economic relationship, improving China’s protection of intellectual property, and identifying policies that unfairly enforce technology transfers,” the White House said in an announcement issued after Trump talked to reporters.

“There is consensus within the Administration that immediate attention is needed to bring changes to United States-China trade and investment relationship.”

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Trump’s praise for Xi does not always translate into a softer policy towards China. He has alternated between anti-China rhetoric and praise for Xi since the two met for the first time at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club and residence in Palm Beach, Florida, a year ago. 

“I believe President Trump’s frequent friendly remarks about General Secretary Xi are meant to indicate that US-China friction is not personal,” Derek Scissors, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said. “It’s strictly business.” 

“President Trump probably meant the trip to Beijing by the US, before implementing tariffs, was ‘being nice’ compared to simply implementing the tariffs without discussion,” Scissors said. 

After the annual meeting of National People’s Congress in March, which tightened Xi’s grip on power and gave him a second term, Trump congratulated his counterpart’s “extraordinary elevation” and lauded their cooperation on an approach to North Korea. 

Just weeks later, when delivering his first comprehensive national security assessment, Trump accused China of “attempting to erode American security and prosperity”. 

Pledges to address a record bilateral trade imbalance in China’s favour, pegged at US$375 billion in 2017, turned into action in January, when Trump began imposing tariffs on imports from countries including China. 

The tariff action started in January with punitive taxes on washing machines and solar panels, followed by steel and aluminium in March. Measures directed squarely at China came last month, when Lighthizer announced tariffs to be imposed on US$50 billion worth of annual imports from China.

China has retaliated by announcing tariffs on US soybeans, pork and other products amounting to roughly the same value. 

The trip by Mnuchin’s delegation to China was the first step in trying to reach a concession that would stop the US tariffs from going into effect later this month or in early June.