RHODES, Greece – A senior adviser to China’s government told USA TODAY on Saturday that multiple delays by the United States and China to reach a final, substantive trade deal are largely because of President Donald Trump’s concerns about the 2020 election.
“Look, Christmas is coming. He wants to be president again. American consumers are not going to accept higher prices on all these goods. He can claim victory any time he wants but that doesn’t mean he’s won or that a deal has actually been reached,” said Huiyao Wang, who spoke to USA TODAY on the sidelines of a geopolitical conference here.
Wang, who is not directly involved in the negotiations, was replying to questions about an emerging trade deal between the United States and China that Trump outlined Friday. Wang was appointed to China’s state council in 2015 by China’s Vice Premier Liu He, the country’s second-in-command who was in Washington Friday for trade negotiations.
Trump has previously said he would insist on a full-blown trade agreement – not a piecemeal deal – that would settle long-running disputes over tariffs, currency rates, technology sharing and intellectual property laws. While a partial agreement could be campaign fodder, there is no indication he has tried to time the negotiations for political benefit.
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Trump said the U.S. and China have “agreed in principle” on a preliminary trade agreement. Trump acknowledged that differences remain on major issues on which the two countries are divided, but the White House still decided not to push ahead with a planned increased to tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods next week.
The move would have raised those tariffs to 30% from 25%.
“There’s too many factors at play for him to just issue threats to governments, China’s or anybody else’s, to just follow along with what he says,” said Wang, referring to the U.S. president’s previous threats to slap additional penalties on Chinese goods.
Wang avoided a question about whether China’s authorities had any concerns about signing a lasting agreement with Trump given other policy reversals and withdrawals the U.S. president has initiated. These include leaving the climate accord, pulling out of the nuclear deal with Iran and, as Trump’s political critics and allies have both described it, “betraying” Kurds in Syria who have been battling the remnants of the Islamic State group alongside U.S. forces. Trump announced this week he would bring U.S. forces from the region home.
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Wang said Trump’s style of negotiation might work in the business world – “person to person” or “business to business” – but it’s less effective for “state to state” relations.
Trump said Friday that negotiators were working on “phase one” of a deal that would ease the trade war between the two countries. “Phase two” would be a broader agreement involving tougher issues, including the forced technology transfers that China imposes on U.S. businesses.
Trump met with China’s top trade negotiator Friday after aides discussed the prospects of a temporary deal designed to freeze the ongoing trade war between the world’s two largest economies.
“All would like to see something significant happen!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
The two sides have attacked each other for months for the various delays.
Trump has frequently blamed China for past impasses, claiming they want to maintain what he calls unfair trade practices.
“My team is negotiating with them now, but they always change the deal in the end to their benefit,” he wrote in a July tweet.
Senior Chinese officials rarely speak openly to media. Wang is a member of China’s state council, a lawmaking branch of its central government. He is also the founder of the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based foreign affairs think tank. His appearance at the conference in Greece was in connection with his role at the policy unit.
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Wang insisted that China has been “accommodating” of many of the Trump administration’s central demands related to any final trade agreement, such as what to do about its government’s subsidies for large state companies and industrial trade policies that require foreign firms to share their technology in return for access to China’s enormous markets. Washington considers this policy to be a form of American intellectual property theft.
“Tesla owns 100% of its factory in China,” Wang said, as evidence for China’s flexibility in the trade talks, referring to the Palo Alto, Calif.-based electric-car company. Beijing announced earlier this year that it would scrap its 50% ownership cap on foreign carmakers.
Contributing: David Jackson, USA TODAY
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