China said on Friday it had made “important progress” towards settling trade disputes with the United States after the countries wrapped up what it called “frank, concrete and constructive” talks in Washington.
Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He led a delegation from Beijing for two days of intense talks in which both sides hailed progress on tough issues beyond the trade imbalance between them – including those that would require Chinese reform, such as forced technology transfer, intellectual property protection and non-tariff market barriers.
“Frank, concrete and constructive discussions have made important progress,” the Chinese delegation said in a statement, published by Xinhua after the talks ended on Thursday.
“The two sides have clarified the timetable and road map for the next consultation.”
With the March 1 end to a 90-day tariffs truce looming – along with the spectre of more US duties on US$200 billion worth of Chinese goods – both sides have been keen to make progress to stave off a further escalation of their trade war.
US President Donald Trump met Liu on Thursday afternoon, and said US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer would go to China in early February to continue the talks.
“There will be a brief pause for the Lunar New Year – briefer than the Chinese want – but our people will be in contact,” Lighthizer said. “At this point, it’s impossible for me to predict success, but we are in a place that, if things work, it could happen.”
Trump hailed the “tremendous progress” he had seen from China towards reforming its laws on forced technology transfer and intellectual property protection, as well as an agreement for China to buy five million tonnes of US soybeans.
But he warned that a wider trade deal was not guaranteed, with many issues still yet to be agreed upon.
When asked if issues surrounding Chinese telecoms giant Huawei were raised – the US unsealed its official indictment this week for the company and its chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou for fraud charges relating to violations of US sanctions on Iran – Trump said they “will be” discussed but were not included in the latest talks.
Meng was detained in Canada, in a high-profile case that has severely strained ties between Ottawa and Beijing, and is fighting extradition to the US.
“I’m sure at some point that’ll be – that, actually, as big as it might seem, is very small compared to the overall deal, but that will be discussed,” Trump said.
The White House said that the talks covered a wide range of issues, including US firms being forced to transfer their technologies to Chinese joint venture partners, the lack of protection for intellectual property rights in China, and the numerous tariff and non-tariff barriers faced by US companies operating in the world’s most populous country.
It said also Beijing needed to deal with other US concerns, including the trade deficit, cybertheft, government subsidies to state-owned enterprises, opening up its agricultural and manufacturing markets, and relaxing controls on its currency.
While analysts said the latest talks reflected progress towards a deal, they said that implementation will take time and that the two sides still do not fully understand each other.
“I am afraid that both sides have not yet revealed their bottom lines,” Liu Weidong, a Sino-US expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said. “While they were still reaching out to find the bottom line this time around, they are more clear on it than they were before. The work that needs to be done now is to further understand their respective situations, as the basis for their decision-making.”
Fu Mengzi, vice president of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations in Beijing, added that the trade talks reflected gradual progress, but he remained hopeful that both sides could reach an agreement after further negotiations in February.
“Things are moving forward,” he said. “The key issues of technology transfer and intellectual property protections still need further negotiation, but if both sides can have a pragmatic and active attitude, the February negotiations in Beijing may still yield an agreement.”
“But some structural problems will need a transition plan, and it is not realistic to expect them to be resolve overnight,” he said.