- Commerce minister tells People’s Daily ‘US started this economic and trade dispute’ and that ‘we must make the best of the spirit of struggle’
- Beijing is in no hurry to reach a deal, analyst says: ‘It looks like China is waiting to see what happens after the 2020 election.’
China must uphold "the spirit of struggle" in defending national interests in its current trade war with the US, the country's commerce minister, who recently joined the negotiations, said.
Zhong Shan, who took part in a telephone conversation with the leaders of the US negotiation team last week, made clear that the US side should be held solely accountable for the trade conflict that has become a drag on the global economy.
The remarks were made as officials from the two nations prepared for further talks. US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that he and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer may travel to Beijing for trade negotiations if talks by telephone this week are productive.
"We expect to have another principal-level call this week, and to the extent we make significant progress, I think there's a good chance we'll go there later," Mnuchin said on Monday at a briefing for reporters at the White House.
The planned phone call would be the second time the countries' top trade negotiators have spoken since US President Donald Trump and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping called a truce in their year-long trade war at a meeting during the Group of 20 summit at the end of June. The leaders agreed to restart talks about a trade deal, which had collapsed in May, but they gave no concrete time frame to reach a deal.
The US expects China to announce significant purchases of American agriculture products, Trump's top economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters on Monday, implying that the step is necessary for the trade talks to advance.
"We expect China to be announcing shortly some large-scale purchases of farm goods and services," Kudlow said.
In an interview published Monday with People's Daily, the Communist Party's mouthpiece, to discuss a nationwide campaign by President Xi Jinping to emphasise political loyalty, Zhong outlined a "Six Plus One" game plan for his ministry.
"The 'One' is that we need to do a good job in handling the trade conflicts between China and the US," said Zhong. "The US has started this economic and trade dispute with us in violation of the principles of World Trade Organisation " a classic example of unilateralism and protectionism."
"We must make the best of the spirit of struggle, and stand firm in defending the interests of our country and the people, as well as the multilateral trading system," he said.
The "six" included other prioritised initiatives, Zhong said. Among those, he said that Beijing would step up its efforts in pushing the belt and road programme, grow domestic consumption, and run a successful China International Import Expo in November, as well as speed up development of free trade zones in the mainland.
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The remarks by Zhong came days after he joined the phone call with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the first time that he has been part of a direct conversation with Washington's negotiators. Zhong's involvement, observers said, showed Beijing's decision to enlist more trade experts as the talks get tougher.
The telephone call last Tuesday was the first among top negotiators since Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump agreed to resume stalled talks in the year-long trade war during their summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 29.
Zhong, who worked under Xi during his time in Zhejiang province, has been minister of commerce since 2017. But he was not directly included in the negotiating team for more than a year into the trade war, which began in earnest last July when Trump issued a first round of tariffs on US$34 billion worth of goods imported from China.
Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based commentator, said that Zhong's comments indicated China was preparing for a protracted trade war with the US.
"The remark is mostly intended for a domestic audience but it clearly shows China is in no hurry to reach a deal and ready for protracted talks," said Zhang.
"It looks like China is waiting to see what happens after the 2020 election."
Scott Kennedy, an economist with Washington-based think tank the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said Zhong's greater prominence meant China had lost interest in addressing US concerns in the talks.
"Zhong Shan's more visible involvement in the negotiations is one of many signs that China has lost interest in a major deal that addresses the concerns of the United States and other countries about Chinese industrial policy and the lack of market reciprocity," he said.
"Those hoping for a deal that stabilises the relationship should give up such illusions. It won't be coming any time soon."
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