Hong Kong ‘not a trade issue’ says Mnuchin ahead of US-China talks

Teddy Ng

The unrest in Hong Kong will not be part of the upcoming trade negotiations between China and the United States, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said.

Mnuchin was outlining his expectations for the talks, scheduled for early October, with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He.

“Well, Hong Kong is definitely not on the table. That is an issue for the secretary of state to deal with. That’s not a trade issue,” he told US broadcaster CNBC on Thursday. “I think you know the president has urged restraint and wants to make sure that there is a peaceful solution to that. But that is definitely not part of trade.”

Chinese officials and state media have repeatedly called on Washington not to link Hong Kong with the trade talks, after US President Donald Trump called for a “humane” solution.

China names agenda for trade talks as Trump floats ‘interim deal’

Trump said late last month that Hong Kong would be “in much bigger trouble” if it weren’t for the trade talks. Chinese state media said attempts to use Hong Kong as a “bargaining chip” would fail.

High-ranking American senators have also called for the passage of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which would require the US government to assess Hong Kong’s level of political autonomy annually to determine whether it should continue to have a special trade status that shields the city from Trump’s tariffs.

US lawmakers have also proposed a prohibition on US companies supplying riot control equipment to Hong Kong with a PROTECT Hong Kong Act.

Trade tensions between the two nations eased this week, as Trump said he would delay the next planned tariff increase – from 25 per cent to 30 per cent on US$250 billion of Chinese goods – by two weeks until October 15, at Liu’s request.

Liu said China welcomed Trump’s decision, and working groups from both sides would meet next week to discuss issues such as market access and protection for investors.

Mnuchin said the chief of the People’s Bank of China, Yi Gang, would be part of the Chinese delegation going to Washington in October.

“We will be having a specific discussion around currency and currency manipulation,” he said. “President Trump is only going to agree to a deal if it’s a good deal, a deal that’s good for US companies and US workers.”

Next month’s trade talks will be the first face-to-face discussions since Shanghai in July, which were immediately followed by Trump’s announcement of additional tariffs on Chinese imports. Mnuchin said the last round of talks “did not make nearly as much progress as we wanted”.

“That’s part of the reason why we’re having deputy-level meetings in advance of our principal-level meetings, to make sure that the necessary work is done in advance of this trip. We don’t want a trip that’s just a series of discussions. We want to make meaningful progress,” he said.

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