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China signals lack of interest in resuming trade talks with US

Bloomberg/Beijing 17 May 19 | 11:32 PM

China’s state media signalled a lack of interest in resuming trade talks with the US under the current threat to escalate tariffs, while the government said stimulus will be stepped up to buttress the domestic economy.

Without new moves that show the US is sincere, it is meaningless for its officials to come to China and have trade talks, according to a commentary by the blog Taoran Notes, which was carried by state-run Xinhua News Agency and the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece. The Ministry of Commerce spokesman said Thursday he had no information about any US officials coming to Beijing for further talks.

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The indications that negotiations are paused will focus attention on the next opportunity for Presidents Xi Jinping and Donald Trump to meet — at the Group of Twenty meeting in Japan next month. Their meeting in Argentina in December last year put negotiations back on track, only for them to fall apart again this month in Washington.

“If the US doesn’t make concessions in key issues, there is little point for China to resume talks,"said Zhou Xiaoming, a former commerce ministry official and diplomat. “China’s stance has become more hard-line and it’s in no rush for a deal"because the US approach is extremely repellent and China has no illusions about US sincerity, he said.

No Rush for a Deal

According to Zhou, the commerce ministry spokesman on Thursday effectively ruled out talks in the near term. 

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said this week that American officials “most likely will go to Beijing at some point" in the near future to continue trade talks, before later saying he has “no plans yet to go to China."

On Friday, China’s government said that it will work to counteract the effects of more US tariffs and keep the economy in a “reasonable range." 

A sharper and more aggressive tone in state media doesn’t rule out short-term progress in trade talks, as rhetoric can be dialled back just as quickly. However, after months of downplaying the dispute with the US and banning the phrase “trade war," the new strident tone of coverage is striking.

The Shanghai Composite Index was 1.7 per cent lower at 1:38 pm in Shanghai, putting it on course for a fourth week of losses, the worst streak in 10 months. The offshore yuan had weakened more than 0.4 per cent to 6.9395 per dollar.

The blog reiterated China’s three main concerns for a deal are tariff removal, achievable purchase plans and a balanced agreement text, as first revealed by Vice Premier Liu He. They mark the official stance as much as the will of the Chinese public, it wrote.

“If anyone thinks the Chinese side is just bluffing, that will be the most significant misjudgment" since the Korean War, it said.

In addition to putting the Taoran commentary on WeChat, the People’s Daily newspaper had three defiant articles on the trade war in the physical newspaper Friday.

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