Soybeans. Photo: Reuters

In President Donald Trump’s trademark reality-show style, US companies and officials in Beijing are being kept in suspense this week ahead of an announcement on tariffs expected to be imposed on Chinese products.

The package of tariffs could be worth US$60 billion, annually, as The Washington Post is reporting. Or, as Axios is reporting, it will be less than that.

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Whatever the final amount is, Chinese state-run tabloid Global Times says Beijing will not take it sitting down. The editor-in-chief of GT’s English and Chinese editions says he has the inside scoop that US soybean exporters will be the first to suffer if and when Trump pulls the trigger.

Meanwhile, Chinese leaders are stepping up a charm offensive to convince Washington, and other foreign capitals, that they are committed to further opening up their economy.

Premier Li Keqiang said in his speech at the end of China’s annual National People’s Congress that China would cut levies on imports, further open up its manufacturing sector and back off forcing foreign companies to transfer technology.

David Fickling noted for Bloomberg Gadfly on Tuesday that Li’s promises would fall short of what the West wants, but might be enough to appease a Europe feeling abandoned by America’s lurch toward protectionism.

There is no reason to think Beijing will open up its tech sector to foreign competition, Fickling writes, let alone industries such as media, which the Communist Party of China explicitly controls. It’s also hard to imagine that foreign competitors would ever be given treatment equal to that given national champion firms and state-owned enterprises under party control, absent a judiciary with even a presumption of independence.

“Still, that’s not the primary objective,” Fickling says. “The long game is the one [President Xi Jinping] himself outlined at the Communist Party’s national congress last year – that China should attain global leadership by 2050. Prising apart the trans-Atlantic alliance by posing as the defender of the global order against an increasingly isolationist America fits that agenda perfectly. That Washington should now be assisting this makeover must count as an unexpected bonus.”

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