Trade war, day 153: China affirms ‘very successful’ trade meeting

Domestic News

After Donald Trump and Xi Jinping agreed to a vague tariff cease-fire (Access paywall) at the G20 on December 1, markets wobbled dramatically as Trump dubbed himself a “Tariff Man,” although China had not yet confirmed most of the specific parts of the agreement that the White House claimed.

Today, China finally followed up about the trade agreement, but Beijing’s statement is still extremely brief, at just six short lines in Chinese. Here’s a complete translation of the notice, titled “Ministry of Commerce spokesman answers reporter’s questions on U.S.-China trade negotiations”:

[Unidentified] reporter question: We are aware that the Chinese trade team has returned to Beijing. Do you have any assessment of the meeting this time?

Answer: The meeting was very successful. We are confident in implementation [of the agreement].

Question: What is the next step of trade negotiations that the Chinese side is preparing for?

Answer: Over the span of 90 days, the economic and trade teams of both sides will actively push forward the negotiation according to a clear schedule and roadmap.

Question: What are the priority items for the Chinese side?

Answer: The Chinese side will start by implementing concrete aspects of the agreed-upon consensus, the sooner the better.

Though a confirmation of a 90-day time frame is reassuring (though China did not specify when it thinks the clock started ticking), we can still not be sure that Beijing has the same “agreed-upon consensus” in mind as Washington.

  • More purchases of U.S. soybeans and liquefied natural gas are being prepared, according to “two officials with knowledge of the discussions” in Bloomberg (porous paywall).
  • Oil, too, but not immediately: “Chinese oil trader Unipec plans to resume U.S. crude shipments to China by March after the Xi-Trump deal at the G-20 meeting reduced the risk of tariffs being imposed on these imports,” Reuters reports.
  • But reductions of auto tariffs, which economic adviser Larry Kudlow had also described as a “litmus test” for negotiations to proceed, have not yet been reported.
  • China has also stayed mum about “negotiating about intellectual property protection, technology transfers and other structural issues the U.S. says are on the agenda,” the Wall Street Journal reports (paywall).
  • The continued silence is probably because China doesn’t think it agreed to many of the specifics of the initial White House statement. Michael Pillsbury, the hawkish China scholar who caught Trump’s attention after he praised the president’s intelligence on Fox News, told Axios: “I have advised the president’s team that for the past 40 years the American side avoids disclosing Chinese concessions before the final agreed written statement is released.”
  • Pillsbury’s now “getting warnings from knowledgeable Chinese about the American claims of concessions,” including “U.S. claims that the Chinese agreed to ‘immediately’ address their most egregious industrial behavior…and to slash tariffs on American cars.”
  • But state media is more than happy to advertise that China is “opening up” and welcoming foreign business. An editorial in the Global Times, which points to recently announced penalties for intellectual property violations as “the beginning of Beijing’s swift implementation of the consensus,” concludes, “China, as an increasingly open market, has an irresistible attraction to the entire world including the US.” Global Times editor-in-chief Hú Xījìn 胡锡进 added on Twitter, “Information I received and my observation show China is serious implementing the consensus reached between Xi and Trump. China is taking swift actions.”
  • The IP rules were dated November 21, which makes it a bit odd to advertise them as a direct result of the December 1 trade agreement, the WSJ points out.

Other trade-war-related news:

Previously in SupChina’s trade war coverage:

Trade war, day 152: Tariff Man tweets, markets plunge