Latest U.S.-China Trade Talks End As March Deadline Nears
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We've been talking this week about the trade negotiations happening between the U.S. and China here in Washington, D.C. Yesterday, President Trump met with China's vice premier. No big trade truce came out of this discussion. So what has changed, if anything, in the big picture?
Joining us now to answer that question is Robert Daly. He is the director of the Wilson Center's Kissinger Institute on China and the United States.
Thanks for being back on the show, Robert.
ROBERT DALY: Good morning. Good to be here.
MARTIN: In your view, was there any real progress this week?
DALY: No, there was mutual signaling of a desire for progress and indications that both Donald Trump and President Xi would like to come to some sort of conclusion or timeout by March 2. There was a suggestion that China might buy some more American soybeans, and President Xi invited President Trump to meet face-to-face to tie this up with a ribbon sometime in late February, and that may take place.
MARTIN: Remind us why those dates - and the March date in particular - is significant.
DALY: When the two of them met in Buenos Aries for dinner on December 1 of last year, they agreed to a 90-day truce in which there would be no further escalations of tariffs. And they agreed that their teams would work over those 90 days to try to solve not only what started this - in President Trump's view, anyway - which was the trade deficit but also to solve the structural difficulties in the economic relationship that would allow us to have more access to Chinese markets and would allow greater reciprocity.
MARTIN: So it's my understanding the president has now backed down on the trade deficit argument and is focusing more clearly on these big structural issues with China's economy. I mean, how likely is China to concede that?
DALY: I think that is extremely unlikely because these structural issues - China's support for state-owned enterprises, its industrial policy, its promotion of national champions - these are central to the Chinese Communist Party's mode of governance. So calling for them to give it up comes close to calling for changes so quick that they're nearly regime change. And Xi Jinping and the leaders believe that it is through industrial policy and through a state-led economy that they increase the welfare of the Chinese people. And so to withdraw from that is to renege on that - again, in Xi Jinping's view - moral obligation to his own people. It's very unlikely.
MARTIN: So then what happens? What is - if this trade war is to come to a conclusion, as you indicate both leaders are keen to make happen, how does President Trump - I would imagine he would like to say face in this moment. How does he get out of this?
DALY: Well, it doesn't truly conclude because the trade war is a subset of a longer-term geostrategic competition between the United States and China, and that won't change. But President Trump could get enough concessions from China. They could purchase more American natural gas, agricultural goods. They could make promises and put structures in place such that he could say, legitimately, that he got more out of China than his predecessors did. And that's a win.
MARTIN: Just literally when you tally up the items that were procured, he can point to a list and say, we got more.
DALY: He got more. He got more attention. He got more vague promises. It's not over, but he's been effective to a degree.
MARTIN: What do you imagine the United States is going to need to give up, though? Because they are going to have to offer something to China.
DALY: Well, it would be a rollback of the sanctions that have been put in place. That's what China chiefly wants now. It will be interesting to see whether Xi Jinping uses his leverage with Donald Trump to also push on treatment of Huawei and Chinese technology generally.
MARTIN: Because the sanctions, obviously, they would want that to be reversed - but would China use this moment to improve their overall position?
DALY: And the Chinese - if indeed Xi Jinping does host Donald Trump, they're past masters at using political theater to get what they want from face-to-face meetings.
MARTIN: And we should just note: President Trump tweeted Thursday saying, no final deal will be made until my friend President Xi and I meet in the near future to discuss and agree on some of the long-standing, more difficult points. So a summit to be announced soon?
DALY: Quite likely at the end of February, possibly after President Trump meets with Kim Jong Un, likely in Vietnam.
MARTIN: Robert Daly, director of the Wilson Center's Kissinger Institute on China and the U.S.
DALY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.