China reiterates opposition to tariffs, emphasizes basis of equality for trade talks
The Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) on Thursday reiterated its opposition to US government's unilateral imposition of tariffs while urging talks and consultations between China and the US on the basis of equality.
The ministry's remarks followed recent comments by US Trade Representative Katherine Tai on resuming negotiations with China. There are hopes for re-engagement, as Washington is walking a fine line between trade engagement plans and a continued push to contain China -- notably in technology. China's technological rise seems to have increasingly become a thorn in the flesh for the US, experts said.
Tai suggested last week that she was expecting to meet her Chinese counterparts "in the near term" for talks on US tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of Chinese products.
Commenting on the subject, Gao Feng, a spokesperson for the MOFCOM, told a regular press conference that the Chinese side noticed the report and that "if there are further [developments], it will be announced promptly."
However, Gao stressed that China's stance on tariffs is very clear -- unilaterally imposing tariffs is not good for China, the US, nor the world.
"The China-US trade relationship is mutually beneficial in nature. Both sides should address each other's reasonable concerns through dialogue and consultation on the basis of mutual respect and equal treatment," Gao said.
Gao denied a Wall Street Journal report suggesting that Beijing was weighing a new economic envoy with Washington.
Tai's remarks renewed re-engagement hopes, according to trade affairs observers, who cited China's continued efforts to open up its market to foreign investors and its dutiful implementation of the phase one trade deal. They said the comments would illuminate the path ahead for the world's top two economies to re-connect rather than moving in the opposite direction.
It shows that after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's talks with the G7 plus India, Australia and South Korea, the US believes that the so-called union of democratic countries has been rebuilt, and the US is well prepared to start trade talks with China, Chen Fengying, a research fellow at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times on Thursday.
"As the US has frequently showed its willingness to talk with China, it is a sign that bilateral trade ties are getting back to normal," Chen added.
Efforts to re-connect the two economies are also evident in China's case.
Speaking at a roundtable in Shanghai on Thursday attended by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and senior executives of US multinationals in China, Gao Jian, an NDRC official, said that Chinese and foreign businesses -- including those from the US -- are an indispensable part of China's economic development.
In another sign, US wealth management giant BlackRock announced on Wednesday that a wealth management joint venture in which it holds a 50.1-percent stake has been granted a license by China's banking and insurance regulator.
China has dramatically increased its purchases of US goods under the phase one deal, Chen said, adding that imports of US farm goods stood at 162.74 billion yuan ($25.21 billion) in 2020, a 66.9 percent increase year-on-year, with soybean imports up 56 percent and imports of US pork up 223.8 percent.
"China has also increased its purchases of every item under the phase one deal," Chen said.
"I would also remind everyone that phase one trade agreement was quite affected in terms of purchases by the COVID-19 pandemic. But it's also structured as a two-year deal.
"There is a way for purchasing elements and efforts to move forward more vigorously in 2021, because the economies have recovered significantly. So hopefully, we can see many more purchases," said Greg Gilligan, chairman of AmCham China, on Tuesday during a press briefing.
During the Trump administration, the US tried almost every measure it could to contain China in trade, Chen said.
However, there are still some other steps that the US is likely to take to contain China, such as decoupling in the high-tech sector, blocking the yuan's globalization or the using the so-called human rights issue to smear China, Chen added.
"With China as the main target, the US Senate committee's approval of the 'Endless Frontier' act indicates that China has made some achievements in science and technology development. Hence, we should not belittle ourselves in the sector," He Weiwen, a former senior Chinese trade official, told the Global Times on Thursday.
The US' "Endless Frontier" act is like a copy of what China is doing in developing its sci-tech sector, although the US, especially the former Trump administration, strongly dislikes China's industry policies, He said.
However, unlike China's institutional advantages such as policy consistency, ability to integrate resources for large projects and an opening-up attitude, the US' political intervention in commercial sci-tech innovation and frequent policy changes mean that the US may not be able to fully achieve its targets as listed in the act, He said.
It's even doubtful whether the Biden administration could provide the money needed.
Initially introduced in 2020, the bipartisan bill promised to compete against China by offering $110 billion through a new directorate at the National Science Foundation, and refocus its efforts on cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning and quantum computing. It stagnated last year as the US Congress spent efforts on COVID-19 recovery and the presidential election.