China-U.S. trade talks make joint efforts to meet each other in the middle

Editor's note: This article is an edited translation, published on the WeChat accounts Taoranbiji on March 5, 2019. The article reflects the authors' opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

The media interviews with ministers during the Two Sessions is an important channel to know latest policies. The second session of the 13th National People's Congress opened in Beijing on March 5.

After the morning meeting, Minister of Commerce Zhong Shan answered a question about China-U.S. trade talks on the spot.

This intriguing question was raised by Reuters on whether China would make a great compromise during the negotiation with the U.S. on trade agreement. The reporter also asked whether it is possible for China to agree to the condition that the U.S. can impose tariffs arbitrarily while China cannot impose retaliatory tariffs in a possible trade agreement between the two countries.

This is a question that everyone is very concerned about. The minister of commerce gave a detailed answer.

The second session of the 13th National People's Congress opens in Beijing, March 5, 2019. /VCG Photo‍

The second session of the 13th National People's Congress opens in Beijing, March 5, 2019. /VCG Photo‍

Since the conclusion of the seventh round of China-U.S. high-level trade talks on February 24, this is the first time that a minister has directly responded to questions about the negotiations, in addition to the answers given by the spokespersons of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and the National People's Congress.

At the crucial stage of the China-U.S. trade talks, Minister Zhong Shan's answer revealed important information about China's position and the progress of the talks.

First of all, it is emphasized that "in the China-U.S. trade talks, both sides must jointly implement the important consensus reached by the heads of state of the two countries."

In his answer, the minister put special emphasis on the word "jointly."

From last year's meeting between the two heads of state in Argentina to now, this is a principle both China and the United States have to follow.

If one party tries to deviate from this consensus or emphasizes that one party abides by it while the other party does not, then the premise of negotiation will no longer exist.

If there is no consensus, there is no point to continue with the talks.

Minister of Commerce Zhong Shan answers questions in the media Interviews with Ministers, Beijing, March 5, 2019. /VCG Photo

Minister of Commerce Zhong Shan answers questions in the media Interviews with Ministers, Beijing, March 5, 2019. /VCG Photo

Secondly, it is emphasized that in the consensus of the two heads of state, the principle of "mutual respect, equality, and mutual benefit" must be adhered to.

This is a sentence that is not very impressive at first sight but actually carries a lot of weight.

From the seventh round of talks to today, the United States has released a lot of mixed information, some of which are positive while some are aggressive, creating many much-debated headline-grabbing topics.

In fact, both the domestic and foreign markets are tired of the U.S. going back and forth. The market seems to become apathetic to these positive headlines about the trade talks.

Minister Zhong Shan's answers are very revealing of China's attitude.

Mutual respect means respecting each other's social systems and development models. Equality and mutual benefit mean that both sides are equal in the negotiation and the results shall be mutually beneficial. During these 90 days, both sides have been holding on to this principle in their negotiations.

How come the so-called "the United States can impose tariffs arbitrarily while China cannot impose retaliatory tariffs" can show equality and respect?

China will definitely not accept this condition.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (front L) and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (front R) leave a hotel on the way to trade talks in Beijing, February 15, 2019. /‍VCG Photo.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (front L) and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (front R) leave a hotel on the way to trade talks in Beijing, February 15, 2019. /‍VCG Photo.

Thirdly, negotiations are tough. To reach a consensus, both sides need to shelve differences and seek common ground.

After the conclusion of the seventh round of trade talks, the market remained optimistic about the prospect of talks.

At that time, the WeChat account Taoranbiji once put forward the following point of view. The delay in tariff hikes is good news, but it also means that talks have entered a critical stage. The better the momentum, the more likely it is to produce positive results, the more we cannot afford to take it lightly. Judging from previous experience, Chinese and Americans have different views on the negotiation.

For example, when the two sides have a good talk, there may be a difference in how the two sides react from the discussions. 

The Chinese people think, if the talks go well, the U.S. can ask for less in the final agreement. While the Americans may think the U.S. can probably ask for more.

Therefore, when everything looks good, the difficulty of the talks actually increases.

As the minister of commerce said: "The difficulty I am talking about here lies in the great differences in our two countries' systems, cultures, stages of development, etc. If the two sides want to reach a consensus, they need to shelve differences and seek common ground, and they need to make greater efforts. So it is very difficult."

As for the progress of the talks and the possibility of an agreement, the minister's answer is also very clear. "According to the progress of the talks, both sides agreed to continue to extend the deadline for negotiation. It is not easy to achieve such results of no tariff hikes before the previously agreed deadline, and we should cherish it all the more."

"Just now this reporter asked me if there will be an agreement. I believe the two sides need to work together to meet each other in the middle."

After all, it takes two to tango, so both sides need to move towards each other. Unilateral commitments cannot produce an enforceable agreement.

On this issue, China's attitude is actually very clear.

"We have been pursuing the principle of equality and reciprocity to resolve China-U.S. economic and trade disputes and achieve a win-win result. However, we are also preparing for the worst possible outcome. China is rational and calm in making the realistic strategy of actively solving problems and dealing with risks simultaneously."

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