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Editorial﹕China soldiers on amid US's animosity

【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.

明報社評2019.05.07﹕貿易談判美惡意滿滿 中方赴會偏向虎山行

美國總統特朗普突然要脅,周五起向2000億美元中國貨加徵關稅。

去年12月「習特會」同意暫停加徵關稅,此後中美展開6輪磋商,特朗普不時說談判「非常順利」,刺激美股上揚。上周中美新一輪貿易談判在北京結束,白宮官員公開表示,談判可望未來兩周有結果,豈料不過數天,特朗普卻突然改口,由之前說「接近達成歷史協議」,變成「不滿談判進展太慢」,宣布本周五起「加碼」向2000億美元中國貨加徵關稅,由去年9月的10%增至25%。

特朗普這次變臉來得突然,惟亦毋須太過驚訝,說到底,去年6月初中美談判代表亦一度達成協議框架,未料之後美方出爾反爾,向華發動貿易戰。由《跨太平洋貿易伙伴協定》(TPP)到美俄《中程導彈條約》,對特朗普來說,國際協議也可隨時撕毁退出,何况尚未正式締訂的協議,今次最新發展再次突顯「特朗普因素」對全球經濟的風險。

當前中美貿易談判形勢,跟今年初美朝峰會臨門一腳急轉直下,頗有相似之處。當時外界原本亦以為,兩國至少可以達成某種協議,未料談判最終破裂。最初特朗普企圖將責任推到朝方身上,聲稱是朝鮮要求全面撤銷制裁,美方不能接受,云云。可是綜合後來美國傳媒和朝方說法,事件始末應該是美朝連番磋商後,朝方相信兩國已就「逐步棄核換取逐步撤銷制裁」取得共識,可是在關鍵時刻,特朗普卻開出新條件,要求朝鮮全面棄核,金正恩認為美方懷有惡意,提早離場。

現在中美貿易談判迎來關鍵時刻,特朗普意欲何為很快揭曉,一大可能是他想故伎重施,試圖以大幅加徵關稅脅迫中方,索要更大讓步,並以所謂「中方企圖重新談判」之說,諉過於人。綜合近月西方權威財經媒體說法,中美就增加購買美國貨、知識產權和技術轉移紛爭等方面,已有大致眉目,餘下主要矛盾點在於執行機制,以及去年6月以來美國對中國貨的關稅會否全部撤銷。

特朗普在本周新一輪談判前,突然威脅加徵關稅,中方代表團如期赴會偏向虎山行,除了要弄清特朗普有何意圖,客觀上亦可避免白宮有口實指控中方「破壞」談判。倘若美方惡意滿滿,提出無理由要求,中方應嚴辭拒絕,必要時更應該考慮提早「班師回國」。

■Glossary

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

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