US, China dampen expectations as trade talks open

Top US and Chinese officials prepared Thursday to kick off crucial trade talks in Beijing but both sides south to dampen expectations for a quick resolution to a heated dispute between the world’s two largest economies.

The gathering comes months after US President Donald Trump sparked a series of tit-for-tat exchanges by threatening to impose huge tariffs on billions of dollars worth of goods, sparking fears of a potentially damaging trade war.

“It is not realistic to resolve all issues through only one round of negotiations, but we believe that, as long as the US is sincere to resolve the relevant issues, the negotiation will be a positive one,” said Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry, at a regular news briefing Wednesday.

The US delegation includes seven senior officials: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, White House economic advisers Peter Navarro, Larry Kudlow, Everett Eissenstat and US Ambassador to China Terry Branstad.

Each member of the team is known to harbour strong views with varying degrees of hawkishness on the dispute — from Navarro, author of “Death by China”, to Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs executive who has publicly expressed optimism on resolving the spat.

“I’m always hoping but not always hopeful,” Lighthizer said on Tuesday before departing for Beijing.

“It’s a big, big challenge.”

Trump will be watching and possibly tweeting from Washington.

“Delegation heading to China to begin talks on the Massive Trade Deficit that has been created with our Country,” he tweeted as the team prepared to leave.

“Very much like North Korea, this should have been fixed years ago, not now…Great Potential for USA!”

Leading the talks for China will be Liu He, President Xi’s top economic advisor and a Vice Premier.

Liu will “exchange views with the US delegation on economic and trade issues of common concern to the US and China”, China’s official news agency Xinhua said Wednesday.

The two sides are set to begin meetings at China’s state guest house Thursday afternoon and continue on Friday, the US embassy said.

Liu’s visit to Washington earlier this year for trade talks produced few tangible results.

– Tech battle –

The immediate threat of tariffs obscures an escalating contest between the two countries over technology.

US officials are concerned about Beijing’s ‘Made in China 2025’ industrial policy which they see as a Chinese plan to dominate key high tech industries.

Before boarding a plane for Beijing, Ross called the policy “frightening”.

Last month, Washington banned Chinese telecom and smartphone giant ZTE from purchasing crucial US components for seven years — threatening the company’s survival — as punishment for breaking US export controls.

The US has also reportedly opened a similar probe into another Chinese telecom major, Huawei, after restricting its operations in the country on national security grounds.

Washington’s moves, perceived by Beijing as an attempt to contain China’s strategic ambitions in hi-tech, have not gone unnoticed.

President Xi Jinping told scientists last week that the country must develop its own core technology.

“To tackle the next key problems in science and technology, we should abandon fantasies and rely on ourselves,” Xi said.