US-China trade talks: Donald Trump says trade deal may need to wait until after US election

Teddy Ng

President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that a trade deal with China might not be forged until after next year’s US general election, throwing cold water on expectations for a breakthrough as lead negotiators resumed talks in Shanghai this week.

“The biggest problem to a trade deal is China would love to wait,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “They would just love if I got defeated so they could deal with somebody like [Senator] Elizabeth Warren or [former vice-president] Sleepy Joe Biden or any of these people.”

“And I will tell you this: China is dying to make a deal with me. But whether or not I'll do it – it's up to me; it's not up to them,” he added.

Trump’s latest comments ran counter to the hopeful sentiments he expressed after meeting his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping a month ago at the G20 in Osaka, when he said the outcome was “better than expected” and that “we’re right back on track”.

“They had the worst year in 27 years,” Trump said in a series of tweets earlier on Tuesday. “They’ve had a terrible year because of the tariffs. A lot of companies are moving out of China. You’ve never seen this before. The United States is doing phenomenally well and we’re taking in tens of billions of dollars for – from China.”

He then warned China that future trade negotiations between the two countries will be much tougher if Beijing drags the current talks out until after next year’s US presidential election and he holds on to power and accused China of continually trying to adjust the terms of the deal to their benefit.

The barrage followed the US leader’s pattern of sending hard-line messages near the start of high-level bilateral talks.

Negotiators from China and the US began two days of talks in Shanghai on Tuesday to little fanfare as they sought to play down expectations of reaching a deal.

“They should probably wait out our Election to see if we get one of the Democrat stiffs like Sleepy Joe. Then they could make a GREAT deal, like in the past 30 years, and continue to ripoff the USA, even bigger and better than ever before,” he said.

“The problem with them waiting, however, is that if & when I win, the deal that they get will be much tougher than what we are negotiating now … or no deal at all. We have all the cards, our past leaders never got it!”

China was doing “very badly” and had shown no signs of buying American agricultural products as promised during earlier negotiations, Trump said.

“That is the problem with China, they just don’t come through.”

It is the first time the negotiations have been held in the east China city, though it is one of the country’s biggest commercial centres. The officials, led by Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on the US side and Vice-Premier Liu He on the Chinese side, have previously shuttled between the respective capital cities of Washington and Beijing.

Beijing hits back at US hawks’ open letter to Trump

Chinese state media provided no information on the progress of the negotiations and said a breakthrough was unlikely in the first face-to-face talks since Trump met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping late last month.

Meanwhile, an English-language commentary published by Xinhua on Tuesday said that the US trade delegates should learn from the visit of Richard Nixon to Shanghai in 1972, when the then US president signed the Shanghai Communique “in the sincere hope of normalising bilateral ties” with China.

“Today once again in the metropolis of Shanghai, US negotiators need to demonstrate that same sincerity and, more importantly, reasonable expectations in the relaunched trade talks … to normalise bilateral trade relations,” it said.

Negotiators from China and the US began two days of talks in Shanghai on Tuesday to little fanfare as they sought to play down expectations of reaching a deal. Photo: AP

Trump said in an interview with Reuters last year – ahead of talks between US Treasury Undersecretary David Malpass and Chinese Vice Minister of Commerce Wang Shouwen – that he had “no time frame” for ending the trade dispute with China, and added: “I’m like [tariffs]; I have a long horizon”.

In May, just days before Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He was due to arrive in Washington for an 11th round of negotiations, Trump tweeted that punitive tariffs on US$200 billion of imports from China would increase to 25 per cent from 10 per cent.

In that series of tweets, Trump also threatened to assess extra duties on the rest of what the country ships to the US. He has not yet followed through with that move.

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