A trade deal nobody likes is actually for the best?

The Chinese government released the Chinese-language text of the trade agreement. The numbers of the promised purchases of American goods are all the same as the English version. Based on a quick read-through, the whole thing appears to be an accurate rendering of the English.   

Here is a selection of the most interesting commentary on the deal, and reports on some of the fallout:

A deal nobody likes is actually for the best? That’s the argument of Taoran Notes (陶然笔记 táorán bǐjì), which Bloomberg once called (porous paywall) a “mysterious WeChat account with an inside track on trade talks.” In a post published today and widely circulated (in Chinese):

First of all, this is an agreement that nobody on either side is entirely satisfied with, but it is generally acceptable…Neither side being very satisfied…may be the best outcome for the moment. As we commented [in Chinese] during the eleventh round of trade talks consultations in May 2019:

“If the two countries negotiate a result that is not very satisfactory to both sides but is generally acceptable, that’s actually a success and it will be smoother to implement. If an agreement is particularly satisfactory to one side and ignores the interests of the other party, then even if it is signed, it may not be implemented, and the fallout can be endless.”

“Soyabean markets slid after the US and China signed a long-awaited preliminary trade agreement, reflecting uncertainty about Beijing’s promises to purchase more farm goods,” reports the Financial Times (paywall).

The Communist Party’s house newspaper, the People’s Daily, featured a short piece (in Chinese) about the deal on its front page today. The tone is lukewarm but positive, and largely repeats the Party clichés from the speech Chinese Vice-Premier Liú Hè 刘鹤 gave at the signing ceremony yesterday.

But there’s more interesting stuff in a more popular People’s Daily article, published online only (in Chinese). Per a Twitter thread from Economist correspondent Simon Rabinowitz, the article says:

Increasing imports from the U.S. is in line with our country’s real needs, already laid out in policy. Chinese companies and consumers will make purchases of their own volition, according to market principles. The government will not make administrative orders, offer subsidies or undertake any such measures to achieve the agreed scale (of imports)…

If Chinese companies can’t import enough because of U.S. export restrictions, the responsibility for the shortfall will lie with the U.S.

“This is a one-sided agreement in favor of the U.S., especially on pledged purchases” was the assessment tweeted by law professor Julian Ku. “The enforcement mechanism, on the other hand, is pretty weak, so if China reneges, there is no new consequence other than what the U.S. is already doing.”

China’s deal to buy more U.S. goods is a “distortion of the market,” says Joerg Wuttke, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, per the South China Morning Post. Wuttke “said the purchasing commitment was ‘managed trade — meaning the U.S. tells China what it should buy from America,’ and it would lead firms from Europe to ‘wonder where our place is.’”

“A trade deal meant to heal rifts could actually make them worse” is the New York Times take (porous paywall). “The new deal…leaves untouched the thorniest issues driving the two economic giants apart. Solving them could take years.”

See also these links behind porous paywalls: