Perhaps it is now not uncommon in the age of Trump to send an inexperienced team of officials with differing views on trade to Beijing for a two-day photo-op to provide their “demands” for adjusting the “unfair” US-China trade balance. Among the seven US delegates, only Robert Lighthizer, the official US Trade Representative, has knowledge in negotiating the unlimited minutia of trade issues. The Chinese side, banged jointly by Liu He quickly, leader Xi Jinping’s new economic main, replaces officials from the Commerce Ministry which were the prior trade experts. Liu’s team, trained in finance and economics, but inexperienced in trade details, appears to be fielded particularly to respond to the Trumpian form of blustery, politicized negotiations highly.
Neither side knows each other very well. The US demands were an starting salvo of the economic artillery barrage that will return back and forth for some time. China has already said it could open its markets to easier conditions for international investment and is considering decreasing some tariffs, but was unwilling to invest in slashing the trade deficit unilaterally.
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China recently announced a Manufactured in China 2025 program as an essential upgrading of the overall economy with an emphasis on high technology industries. 47 billion China Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund to advance the 2025 plan. The US objects to the plan because of the large amount of government subsidies it’ll contain.
So, a year-long set of trade negotiations has begun with both sides securely dug in. Nothing much will probably happen for some time. China is not in a hurry and doesn’t face mid-term elections in the fall. But, China too has large politics interests at stake in these negotiations.
Newly anointed president-for-life Xi Jinping is in the process of consolidating all capabilities in China in the Chinese Communist Party (and himself). His propaganda machine is active promoting Xi’s dynamic leadership constantly, his “thought” and his “Chinese dream” even though development is slowing, financial dangers are increasing, and the issues of China’s huge ageing population are becoming apparent. Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Xi has a populist part that appeals to nationalistic sentiments that the propaganda people keep warm. He wants China to be acknowledged by the united states and other countries as a great power, and not show up as Japan in the 1980s, so powered by economic ambitions that it could be compelled into concessions by the united states.
Mr. Trump’s design of deal-making is not unique in trade discussions. Indeed, Richard Nixon, frustrated that Japan was not conceding to his trade plan demands, suddenly enforced a 10% surtax on all Japanese imports to the US. Japan responded by offering some concessions on quotas that resolved the politics problem Nixon acquired with US job losses for some time.