Tough talk from China leaves trade talks with US in limbo

China struck a more aggressive tone in its trade war with the United States today. — Reuters pic
China struck a more aggressive tone in its trade war with the United States today. — Reuters pic

WASHINGTON, May 17 — China struck a more aggressive tone in its trade war with the United States today, suggesting a resumption of talks between the world’s two largest economies would be meaningless unless Washington changed course.

The tough talk capped a week that saw Beijing unveil fresh retaliatory tariffs, US officials accuse China of backtracking on promises made during months of talks and the Trump administration level a potentially crippling blow against one of China’s biggest and most successful companies.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang, asked about state media reports suggesting there would be no more trade negotiations, said China always encouraged resolving disputes with the United States through dialogue and consultations.

“But because of certain things the US side has done during the previous China-US trade consultations, we believe if there is meaning for these talks, there must be a show of sincerity,” he told a daily news briefing.

The United States raised Beijing’s ire this week when it announced it was putting Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, the world’s biggest telecoms equipment maker, on a blacklist that could make it extremely hard to do business with US companies.

China has yet to say whether or how it will retaliate, although its state media is sounding an increasingly strident note. The ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily published today a front-page commentary that evoked the patriotic spirit of the country’s past wars.

“The trade war can’t bring China down. It will only harden us to grow stronger,” it said.

Global stocks, which rebounded this week on the prospect of another round of US-China talks, suffered a fresh bout of selling and China’s yuan slid to its weakest level against the US dollar in almost five months.

The increasingly acrimonious trade dispute has rattled investors who fear that the countries are careening dangerously down a track that will badly damage global supply lines and put the brakes on an already slowing world economy.

The South China Morning Post, citing an unidentified source, reported that a senior member of China’s Communist Party said the trade war could reduce China’s 2019 economic growth by 1 percentage point in the worst-case scenario.

Auto tariffs

US President Donald Trump, who has embraced protectionism as part of an “America First” agenda aimed at rebalancing global trade, has accused China of backing out of a deal earlier this month that would have ended the 10-month dispute.

Trump punctuated two days of talks in Washington last week with a decision to raise tariffs on US$200 billion (RM835 billion) in Chinese imports to 25 per cent from 10 per cent. The negotiations ended in a stalemate.

On Monday, Beijing said it would raise its tariffs on a revised list of US$60 billion in US goods effective June 1. Trump, in turn, said he is considering slapping tariffs on the remaining US$300 billion in Chinese imports to the United States.

The US president also continues to dangle the possibility of imposing tariffs of up to 25% on imported cars and parts, a move that could be devastating for a number of its trading partners, including Japan and Germany.

The White House said today that Trump’s decision on auto tariffs would be delayed by up to six months to allow more time for trade talks with the European Union and Japan. Trump faced a Saturday deadline to make a decision.

It added, however, that the US president agreed with findings by the US Commerce Department that imported vehicles and parts can threaten US national security, a designation likely to anger some US allies.

“We regret that the US has designated car imports as a threat to national security,” German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said in Berlin. Altmaier added, however, that the delay offered hope that a renewed escalation of the US-EU trade conflict could be prevented for now.

Automakers have strongly opposed the tariffs, saying they would hike prices and threaten thousands of US jobs. There is also strong opposition in the US Congress, with many prominent members of Trump’s Republican Party rejecting the idea.

Although Trump has generally defended his moves to hike US tariffs on trading partners and said there was no reason why American consumers would pay the costs, there are growing signs that is exactly what will happen.

US-based Walmart Inc, the world’s largest retailer, said yesterday its prices will rise due to higher tariffs on Chinese goods, though its chief financial officer told Reuters it will seek to ease the pain, in part by trying to buy from different countries. — Reuters