United States President Donald Trump says he is opposed to renegotiating the US-China “Phase One” trade deal after a Chinese state-run newspaper reported some government advisers in Beijing were urging fresh talks and possibly invalidating the agreement.
Trump, who himself has considered abandoning the pact signed in January, told a White House press briefing he wanted to see if Beijing lived up to the deal to massively increase purchases of US goods.
“No, not at all. Not even a little bit,” Trump said when asked if he would entertain the idea of reworking Phase One. “I’m not interested. We signed a deal. I had heard that too, they’d like to reopen the trade talk, to make it a better deal for them.”
The Global Times tabloid reported on Monday that unidentified advisers close to the talks have suggested that Chinese officials revive the possibility of invalidating the trade pact and negotiate a new one to tilt the scales more to the Chinese side.
The Global Times is published by the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party. While not an official party mouthpiece, the Global Times’ views are believed at times to reflect those of its leaders.
New soybean purchases
Hours after the report was published, Chinese importers on Monday bought at least four cargoes, or about 240,000 tonnes, of US soybeans on Monday for shipment beginning in July, and additional sales are possible, two traders familiar with the deals said on Monday.
The purchases were the latest in a recent string by China, which US officials say has also begun implementing other parts of the trade deal regarding intellectual property protections.
The US Trade Representative’s office did not respond to repeated queries on the Global Times article.
Under the Phase One deal signed in January, Beijing pledged to buy at least $200bn in additional US goods and services over two years while Washington agreed to roll back tariffs in stages on Chinese goods.
Trump, who has blamed China’s early handling of the new coronavirus outbreak in its central city of Wuhan for thousands of US deaths and millions of job losses, said last week he was “very torn” about whether to end the Phase One trade deal. Those comments came just hours after top trade officials from both countries pledged to press ahead with implementing the agreement.
Meanwhile, a new analysis published by the US-China Investment Project showed that Chinese investment in the US dropped to $5bn in 2019, a slight decrease from a year earlier and the lowest level since the global financial crisis 10 years ago.
The analysis attributed the investment slowdown to Chinese restrictions on outbound capital, more regulatory oversight in the US, slower Chinese economic growth, and rising tensions between the two nations.
‘Tsunami of anger’
The increasingly fraught relationship between the world’s top two economies over the coronavirus outbreak has cast the trade deal into doubt and made the prospects of a broader agreement even more remote.
The Trump administration asserted there was evidence the new coronavirus came from a Wuhan laboratory, an allegation that China has rejected. On Monday, a new source of tension opened up, with reports that the administration is planning to issue a warning that computer hackers tied to the Chinese government are attempting to steal information from US researchers.
US intelligence and law enforcement officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Global Times said malicious attacks by the US have ignited a “tsunami of anger” among Chinese trade insiders after China made compromises in the Phase One pact.
“It’s in fact in China’s interests to terminate the current Phase One deal,” a trade adviser to the Chinese government told the Global Times, citing the weakening US economy and upcoming US presidential elections. “The US now cannot afford to restart the trade war with China if everything goes back to the starting point.”
Clete Willems, a former White House trade adviser who took an active role in the US-China negotiations, said China had followed through on the majority of the structural provisions in the Phase 1 deal, including new rules to protect intellectual property.
“I don’t think we’re at the point where we should give up on the deal. It has yielded positive results thus far,” said Willems, who is now with the Akin Gump law firm in Washington, DC.