China has confirmed that its top trade negotiator will travel to the United States to conduct a new round of trade talks later this week, even after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened higher tariffs on billions of dollars of Chinese goods after he complained the process is taking too long.
The Commerce Ministry issued a statement Tuesday that Vice Premier Liu He, President Xi Jinping’s top economic advisor, will meet with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for two days of talks beginning Thursday.
Trump's Twitter comments on Sunday about the new tariffs sent Asian stocks and U.S. futures tumbling Monday and added uncertainty over the future of U.S.-China trade negotiations. Despite the market drop, China's official media stayed silent on Trump's comments all morning.
Hours later, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters that China is "trying to get more information" about Trump's comments about new tariffs but stressed that Beijing's negotiating team is still preparing to travel to the U.S. for talks this week. Geng did not say whether Vice Premier Liu would lead the delegation.
“The tweet is a big wrench in China’s foreign trade policy,” Nick Marro, analyst at The Economist Intelligence Unit (The EIU), told VOA. “There were a lot of expectations that at least the groundwork for a deal will be finalized this week,” he said, explaining why Beijing should be upset by the new threat.
Tweet with teeth
In his tweet, Trump said he would increase tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent on Friday. This would reverse a decision Washington took last February to keep it at 10 percent in the midst of trade talks.
“The Trade Deal with China continues, but too slowly, as they attempt to renegotiate. No!,” Trump said, expressing dissatisfaction about the pace of trade negotiations and what he considered a Chinese attempt to renegotiate some aspects of the proposed deal.
Lighthizer on Monday confirmed that tariffs will be imposed Friday. He and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin told reporters Trump had learned over the weekend that Chinese officials "were trying to go back on some of the language'' that had been negotiated in 10 earlier rounds of talks. They did not offer details.
Trump also said his policy of hiking taxes on Chinese goods had paid dividends.
“These payments are partially responsible for our great economic results,” he said.
He went further, saying another $325 billion of Chinese goods which “remain untaxed” will be taxed at 25 percent. He did not specify a timeline for making this change.
In its response Monday, the Chinese foreign ministry expressed hope that there is no change in the situation, and the two countries will continue to strive for an end to the trade war.
“What is of vital importance is that we still hope the United States can work hard with China to meet each other half way, and strive to reach a mutually beneficial, win-win agreement on the basis of mutual respect,” Geng said.
Echoing China’s confidence that trade talks would not be disrupted by Trump's tweet, Shanghai-based expert Shen Dingli said, “China and the U.S. have big and overlapping stakes in bilateral trade. They will overcome any difficulties for a successful outcome of the trade talks.”