China won’t set a time limit for reaching a trade deal with US, foreign ministry says

Kristin Huang

China does not have a deadline for reaching a trade deal with the United States but will not be rushed or bullied on the issue, Beijing said on Wednesday.

“The trade negotiations should be conducted in an equal and mutually respectful way, and the deal must be mutually beneficial,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular press briefing.

While a tariff war did nothing for the interests of China or the US, Beijing would respond if Washington imposed fresh duties on its goods, she said.

“When faced with unilateralism, protectionism and trade bullying, we have no other choice but to respond with resolute and decisive measures to protect China’s righteous and legal interests. So we won’t set a time limit for the trade deal.”

Hua’s remarks came after US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that it was possible an agreement might not be reached until after the US presidential elections in November 2020, despite him saying in October that a “phase one” deal was almost complete.

“In some ways, I like the idea of waiting until after the election for the China deal,” Trump said on the sidelines of a summit in London to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Nato.

“But they want to make a deal now and we will see whether the deal is going to be right.”

A tariff war is in neither side’s interests, according to China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying. Photo: Kyodo

The US president has threatened to impose 15 per cent tariffs on a further US$160 billion worth of Chinese imports from December 15 if an interim deal is not reached before that date. US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross reiterated the warning on Tuesday.

The latest confusion as to when a deal might be finalised comes amid rising tensions between Beijing and Washington, after Trump last week signed into law the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, drawing a sharp rebuke from Beijing.

Tensions between Beijing and Washington rose after Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act into law. Photo: May Tse

And on Wednesday, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would pave the way for imposing sanctions on officials accused of human rights abuses in China’s far western region of Xinjiang.

Despite those differences, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday that the two sides were moving closer to deciding which tariffs would be lifted in an interim deal. Trump’s comments about an agreement being delayed until after next year’s presidential election should not be understood to mean the talks were stalling, unnamed sources were quoted as saying.

Liu Weidong, a US affairs expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), said that regardless of the latest remarks and speculation, the two sides appeared to be locked in a war of attrition.

“I think China and the US have reached a stalemate. Yes, China has suffered huge losses from the punitive tariffs imposed by the US, but the upcoming US election has also brought lots of trouble for US politicians too,” he said.

“If the US goes ahead with the new duties on December 15, China could respond with tit-for-tat tariffs on US imports. It could also withdraw its promises to open up its markets to US agricultural products, oil and other goods.”

What was certain was that China would not compromise on its position that the US must first remove its tariffs before a deal could be reached, Liu said.

Lu Xiang, another Sino-US specialist at the CASS, agreed that Beijing would not respond to the threat of more punitive duties.

“China and the US are testing each other to see which can endure the most pressure over the longest time,” he said.

“[But] threats from the US won’t work against China, even though it [Beijing] doesn’t want the trade war to continue.”

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