China, US trade talks resume in Shanghai in shadow of Donald Trump’s angry tweets aimed at Beijing
China and the United States resumed trade talks on Wednesday morning in Shanghai in the shadow of tweets from US President Donald Trump complaining that Beijing had not started buying American farm products and could not be counted on to agree to a deal.
US trade representative Robert Lighthizer and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin did not comment on the progress of the talks during a media photo session with Vice-Premier Liu He.
“It’s a beautiful day, it’s really nice,” said Lighthizer, while Mnuchin added that the Huangpu River, which borders the Bund area of Shanghai where the talks are being held, was “very beautiful”.
Lighthizer and Mnuchin were joined at the Xijiao State Guest Hotel for the talks by deputy US trade representative Jeffrey Gerrish, with Commerce Minister Zhong Shan and vice-commerce minister Wang Shouwen accompanying Liu.
The US delegation had earlier checked out of their hotel on Wednesday morning, with the talks set to continue until midafternoon.
The talks, the first since May, had started on Tuesday with what was described as a working dinner on the same day China’s top leaders met in Beijing for their quarterly review of the economic situation.
But minutes after the Xinhua News Agency report on the Politburo meeting was published, Trump took to Twitter to complain at length that China has not been “coming through” in terms of buying US farm products or making progress on a deal to end the year-long trade war.
Trump added that Chinese negotiators “always change the deal in the end to their benefit” in a series of social media posts timed a few minutes before the US delegation arrived at their hotel.
According to reports by Taoran Notes, a social media account controlled by the official Economic Daily that has been a source of comments about official thinking on the trade conflict, Liu showed the US delegation the view of the Bund area from the balcony of the restaurant where the working dinner took place.
A picture of Liu with Lighthizer and Mnuchin was also published by the account, with the caption stating that “judging by their facial expressions, the atmosphere was quite harmonious”.
Commerce Minister Zhong, who had joined the previous telephone conversations between the two sides over the last few weeks since Trump met with President Xi Jinping in Japan at the end of June, did not attend the dinner, according to Chinese media. The inclusion of Zhong, considered a Communist Party hardliner, in the telephone conversations was seen by analysts as an indication China would be less flexible in negotiations going forward.
But while the trade negotiators avoided making any public comments, Chinese official media, including state broadcaster CCTV, Xinhua, People’s Daily and Global Times, responded to Trump’s tweets.
A commentary run by CCTV on Wednesday said it was wrong to claim that China showed no sign of buying US farm products as millions of tonnes of soybeans had already been loaded onto ships destined for China, and it is also wrong to criticise China for wanting to change the details of a proposed trade deal.
“Some people in the US should do the job of building up the foundation [for talks] instead of demolishing it,” it added. “Otherwise, it would only undermine bilateral cooperation and miss an historical opportunity.”
A People’s Daily commentary also published on Wednesday hinted that the tweets from Trump would make it harder to make progress on a trade deal.
“If you want to talk to China, be honest and sincere and don’t make trouble,” the Communist Party’s mouthpiece said.
US Department of Agriculture (USDA) data for the week ending July 18 suggested no major Chinese purchases of US agricultural goods had been taking place. However, there were 4.72 million metric tonnes of soybeans which have been purchased in the marketing year do date but had yet to be shipped, as of July 18. The marketing year ends on August 31.
Reuters reported that in the week ending July 11, China had purchased 51,072 metric tonnes of sorghum, despite there being a 25 per cent tariff on the grain. As of the following week, all outstanding sorghum sales to China had been shipped, USDA data showed.