Trump again threatens to cut China ties after US official ruled it out

Trump again threatens to cut China ties after US official ruled it out

President contradicts top China trade negotiator as Washington questions Beijing Covid-19 outbreak numbers.

Donald Trump has renewed his threat to cut ties with China, a day after his diplomats held high-level talks with Beijing and his top US trade negotiator said severing the trade relationship was not a viable option.

The conflicting stances emerged as Washington questioned China’s credibility on accurately reporting the new Covid-19 cluster in Beijing.

Trump wrote on social media that the US “certainly does maintain a policy option, under various conditions, of a complete decoupling from China. Thank you!”.

Trump said he was responding to comments by his trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, who has been at the forefront of trade negotiations with Beijing.

Lighthizer told a congressional committee on Wednesday that China so far had been living up to the terms of a “phase one” trade agreement that eased the dispute, and that decoupling the two economic giants was now impossible.

“Do I think that you can sit down and decouple the United States economy from the Chinese economy?” Lighthizer said. “No, I think that was a policy option years ago. I don’t think it’s a … reasonable policy option at this point.”

Lighthizer said he expected to see more supply chains moving to the United States because of tax and regulatory changes, but also noted that the US-China trade deal would result in significant positive changes and increased Chinese purchases of US goods and services.

In his post, Trump attempted to let his trade official off the hook: “It was not Ambassador Lighthizer’s fault (yesterday in Committee) in that perhaps I didn’t make myself clear.”

The contradictory positions come amid multiple points of friction between the world’s two largest economies, including trade, China’s moves to impose new security legislation on Hong Kong, and the coronavirus.

On Thursday the US questioned China’s credibility on reporting fresh coronavirus cases in Beijing and called for neutral observers to assess the extent of the outbreak.

China has locked down parts of the capital as it seeks to prevent a second wave of Covid-19, reporting 158 cases since a fresh cluster was detected last week.

On Wednesday the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, an outspoken critic of China, urged greater transparency during talks in Hawaii with the senior Chinese official Yang Jiechi.

Afterwards the US diplomat David Stilwell, who accompanied Pompeo, described relations between the two countries as tense. On the Beijing outbreak he said: “I would hope that their numbers and their reporting are more accurate than what we saw in the case of Wuhan and other places in the PRC, but that remains to be seen.

“As far as numbers, it would be good to have folks on the ground to get confirmation” in Beijing, Stilwell said.

On the trade deal, Stilwell said: “The Chinese have recommitted to that numerous times … and they insist that they will follow through.

“If they come to the table with a reasonable proposal, the US is obviously going to treat it reasonably and look for ways to work toward a positive outcome,” he said.

However he described relations as “intense” and said the Chinese delegation had not been “forthcoming”, adding that the US had gone to “great effort to provide an environment for candid and productive discussions”.

“The actions that we’ve seen out of the PRC of late … have been not really constructive as we look at India, the South China Sea, Hong Kong issues.”

China described the Hawaii talks as “constructive” but its foreign ministry said Yang told Pompeo that Washington needed to respect Beijing’s positions on key issues and halt its interference in matters such as Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang, while working to repair relations.

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