The U.S. and China have restarted their trade talks, but signs are showing a comprehensive deal could be a long way off, if it happens at all.
China suddenly added a new member to its negotiating team — the country’s commerce minister Zhong Shan, who was present at last month’s G-20 summit and took part in a telephone conversation with the U.S. representatives last week. Zhong is seen by many officials in Washington as a hardliner, a sign the Chinese leader Xi Jinping is standing firm, the Washington Post reported.
His recent remarks in the Chinese press indicated his tough stance in the trade war.
“The U.S. side has provoked economic and trade frictions against us and violated the principles of the WTO. It is typical of unilateralism and protectionism,” Zhong told the People’s Daily on Monday, according to a Google translation. “We have to uphold our warrior spirit in firmly defending national and people’s interests in defending the multilateral trading system.” The People’s Daily is the official newspaper for the Communist Party in China.
The new development dampened analysts and investors’ hope for a resolution as some see the progress “in reverse.”
“No face-to-face meetings have even been scheduled,” Donald Straszheim, head of Evercore ISI’s China research team, said in a note. “Trade progress has been in reverse. The two sides are further apart now than in Nov-Dec 2018.”
“A combination of substantial steps, partial actions and empty words which will be a relief but far from a final resolution of what has morphed from trade war to a ‘stop the China rise’ cold war,” Straszheim said.
The prolonged trade battle seems to be taking a toll on the Chinese economy. Data showed on Monday its economy slowed to 6.2% — the weakest rate in at least 27 years.
President Donald Trump claimed the slower growth is the evidence that China is losing the trade war, saying in a Twitter post on Monday that the U.S. tariffs were having “a major effect” and it’s why China wants a deal.
China’s side was quick to rebut Trump’s comment. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China’s first-half pace was a “not bad performance” and was in line with expectations.
“As for United States’ so-called ‘because China’s economy is slowing so China urgently hopes to reach an agreement with the U.S. side’, this is totally misleading,” Geng told a daily news briefing on Tuesday.