Amid rumblings of a US-China trade war, President Donald Trump plans to send a delegation of senior officials to Beijing for “substantive” talks next week.
Is a trade deal in the works? US officials to visit Beijing
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and White House Trade Director Peter Navarro are expected to lead the group.
“We’re having Secretary Mnuchin and a couple of other folks heading over to – Bob Lighthizer – heading over to China, at the request of China,” Trump said in a joint news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday at the White House.
“We’re having very substantive discussions on trade. I believe the trade will work out, but I also think that China has never treated us with more respect than they have over the last short period of time that I’m president.”
They are likely to be joined on the trip by Larry Kudlow, TV pundit and the director of the White House’s National Economic Council. Mnuchin and Kudlow are pro-trade, while Lighthizer and Navarro have been critics of China’s trade practices.
Lu Kang, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, said the government welcomed the upcoming talks.
Tension between the world’s two biggest economies has been running high since President Trump first announced the plan to impose tariffs on Chinese imports in late March, citing intellectual property theft.
So far, the US has threatened to impose tariffs on up to $150 billion worth of Chinese goods. China returned fire by proposing 25% tariffs on $50 billion worth of US products, including soybeans, cars and airplanes.
Mnuchin’s possible visit could be seen as the first sign that the US and China are trying to negotiate, but some analysts believe it will be difficult to resolve the differences between the two countries.
“I wouldn’t read too much into it. If it happens it would be a positive sign, but there are still a lot of hard issues to discuss ahead,” says Christopher Balding, an associate professor at the HSBC Business School in Shenzhen.
Lu Xiang, a Sino-US specialist with government think tank the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, believes that the lack of details about Mnuchin’s visit means that the two sides are “still divided over what to talk about and cannot agree on an agenda.”
“The US side has always said tariffs were a way to negotiate, so it seems certain they will take this step,” Lu says. “But for China, the atmosphere isn’t right – the US is waving a stick.”
Mnuchin has refused to reveal what he wants from a trade deal with China. “If we have a deal, you’ll know what it looks like when we have it,” he told reporters this week.
Such a delicate situation will take more than mastering the art of the deal.