Donald Trump appeared to take a wrecking ball to the trade talks before they had even begun.
In a media briefing, the US President made it clear that a “50-50 deal won’t work” before discussions were due to resume in Washington on Thursday between China’s Vice-Premier Liu He, and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
“They want to make a deal,” Trump said at the White House. “The question is do I want to make a deal?”
Round 13 of negotiations between the United States and China are slated to take place against the backdrop of heightened diplomatic tension.
Earlier this week, Washington blacklisted 28 Chinese companies, including eight high-tech firms, after they were “implicated” in human rights abuses. The US also imposed additional visa restrictions for Chinese government officials.
Along with the blacklisted companies, they were accused of persecuting ethnic Muslims in China’s western Xinjiang region.
The measures have outraged Beijing while targeting major Chinese players in the artificial intelligence sector, a crucial area of intense rivalry.
“If you’re looking for good news, they didn’t cancel the trip,” Tom Block, a policy strategist at Fundstrat, a markets advisory firm in Washington, told the CNBC television network.
Since launching his offensive against China last year, Trump has taken the global economy on a white-knuckle ride.
The row originally erupted over America’s soaring trade deficit with China in 2017. Since then, there has been no significant reduction. In 2018, the US deficit was $419.52 billion.
Yet after the opening salvos, other issues started to overshadow dollars and cents.
Intellectual Property theft, forced transfer of technology, cyberspace spying and even Beijing’s state-run model have come under the microscope. Also, there is the thorny problem of enforcing any subsequent “agreement.”
In Beijing, President Xi Jinping’s government has hinted that it will only talk about trade, with Liu and his team expected to pursue a fairly narrow agenda.
To complete an already complex picture, Washington is planning to roll out a hike in tariffs to 30% on Chinese imports worth $250 billion on October 15 if the talks collapse.
“We do not love tariffs, in fact, we would prefer not to use them, but after years of discussions and no action, tariffs are finally forcing China to pay attention to our concerns,” US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in Sydney on Thursday.
Waiting in the wings is another deadline, December 15. If discussions are still stalled, the White House plans to impose tariffs on nearly all Chinese imports worth $500 billion.
“I’ve never seen China respond with concessions to someone throwing down the gauntlet in this manner,” Scott Kennedy, a China trade expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told Reuters news agency.
“It suggests to me that the US may have determined that progress was impossible so everyone is just going through the motions,” he added.