【明報專訊】IN a sudden act of belligerence, US president Donald Trump has ordered the imposition of tariffs on US$200 billion's worth of Chinese goods effective from Friday.
Last December, following the summit between Xi Jinping and Donald Trump, both sides agreed to delay the imposition of new tariffs. Six rounds of negotiations were held between China and the US subsequently, with Donald Trump claiming repeatedly that the negotiations "went very smoothly", sending US stocks rising. In the middle of last week, the latest round of trade negotiations concluded in Beijing. Officials of the White House said publicly that they expected an outcome in two weeks. Just several days later, however, Donald Trump made a sudden reversal, saying that he was unhappy that "The Trade Deal with China continues, but too slowly" even though he had earlier claimed that the two countries were about to reach a historic deal. He announced that he would ratchet up the pressure by increasing a tariff on US$200 billion's worth of Chinese goods from 10% last September to 25%.
Though out of the blue, Donald Trump's latest about-face is not too surprising. After all, early last June negotiators of both countries also claimed that they had agreed on the framework of a deal. But the US went back on its word unexpectedly and began a trade war on China. From the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, to Donald Trump, it is not a problem to rescind or pull out of an international treaty, let alone an agreement not yet signed. The latest development demonstrates the risk to the global economy posed by the "Donald Trump" factor.
The latest situation in the China-US trade talks bears some similarities to the US-North Korea summit early this year, which unravelled just when a deal was in sight. At first outsiders believed that both sides could at least reach a certain kind of deal, but the negotiations broke down ultimately. Donald Trump tried to shift the blame onto North Korea, claiming that it was North Korea that demanded a full removal of sanctions, which the US could not accept. However, piecing together US media reports and North Korea's saying, it is believed that North Korea determined that the two countries had reached a consensus on "the gradual denuclearisation in exchange of gradual removal of sanctions" after several rounds of negotiations. However, just when things were at a critical moment, Donald Trump set out new conditions by demanding that North Korea completely denuclearise. Kim Jong-un left the negotiating table with the feeling that the US harboured bad intentions.
Now that trade talks between China and the US have reached a critical juncture as well, it will be known very soon what Trump wants. It is highly likely that he wants to use the same old trick and tries to threaten China with a massive hike of sanctions so as to clinch bigger concessions. He might also try to shift the blame by saying that "China tries to renegotiate". According to reports by financial news outlets of authority in recent months, the two countries had had some ideas about purchasing more US goods, copyright and transfer of technology. The remaining points of conflict are the mechanism for execution and whether the tariffs imposed on Chinese goods by the US since last June would all be lifted.
Donald Trump suddenly threatened to impose new tariffs just before the beginning of a new round of negotiations this week. Knowing the danger ahead, the Chinese delegation set off for the US as scheduled not only because they want to know with certainty Trump's intentions, but also because they want to prevent the White House from accusing China of sabotaging the talks. However, if the US is full of animosity and raises unreasonable demands, China should reject them sternly and cut short the trip and return to China if necessary.
soldier on﹕to continue with what you are doing or trying to achieve, especially when this is difficult or unpleasant
animosity﹕a strong feeling of opposition, anger or hatred
set off﹕to begin a journey