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World

Trump Threatens Chinese Tariff Increase Ahead Of Critical Trade Talks

AARTI SHAHANI, HOST:

The U.S.-China trade deal may be approaching its final leg. This past week, U.S. trade officials were in Beijing. And a Chinese delegation is headed to Washington to continue talks Wednesday. President Trump tweeted earlier today that, quote, "the trade deal with China continues, but too slowly, as they attempt to renegotiate. No" - exclamation point.

What issues are on the table and off the table? I spoke about this with James Green. He's the former minister counselor for trade affairs at the U.S. embassy in Beijing. He began by unpacking Trump's tariff tweet.

JAMES GREEN: Well, I think one of the main sticking points in getting a final agreement will be which tariffs will remain. There's tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese exports to the United States. And I think for some inside the administration, they want to keep on some tariffs on some amount of those Chinese exports. And so I think the negotiations are probably getting around that issue. What number should that be? Should it be $50 billion worth, less or more? And what tariff level should that be?

And so I think this is going to be something that's a sticking point. From the Chinese point of view, they would like all tariffs to go away as a signal that U.S.-China relations are back on track.

SHAHANI: One issue that I've been paying attention to is cyber theft and whether that is or is not on the table. According to The Financial Times, it's off. It's not expected that the U.S. will reach an agreement with President Xi and his administration. What's your understanding on it? Do you believe that cyber theft, this lingering issue, is going to have a breakthrough in these talks?

GREEN: Well, I don't think the administration went in to these trade talks with the expectation that cyber theft would be addressed through these channels. I think there - other than highlighting it and telling companies they should be aware and giving warning to the Chinese government that this is something we pay attention to, I don't think there was an expectation that these tariffs would somehow make this issue go away.

SHAHANI: I know that one thing that American technology companies have really wanted is to be allowed to bring the data they're collecting in China over to the U.S. for artificial intelligence data mining purposes. Is that something they're going to be able to achieve in this round?

GREEN: This area of data transfer is just critical for how U.S. companies operate globally. And so, yes, I suspect this is an area that the two sides are looking at very closely. And I know from my experience for the past five years at the embassy, these are issues we brought to the Chinese attention to say, you know, if you want your companies to be global companies, then data has to flow across borders. So I think this is something the sides - both sides are looking at very closely.

SHAHANI: I want to switch gears for a moment to a human rights crisis in China according to U.S. officials. I'm talking about Uighurs - Muslims, ethnic minorities. Randall Schriver, who leads Asia policy at the U.S. Defense Department, he says that more than a million are in concentration camps, his words. China claims they're re-education camps for terrorists. Is it peculiar or a given that this crisis is not part of the conversation, that it's off the table?

GREEN: Well, I think there is - in any trade negotiation, there is the background music that is playing that sets some of the stage for what happens at the negotiation table. The discussions now with China include conflict over the South China Sea, and certainly Chinese treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang is one of those things that sets the mood music. But in terms of actually changing the negotiating text, I don't think that's likely to enter into the conversation.

SHAHANI: China is not just an economic issue, it's political, a way that Trump is signaling to his base. Granted, it's not as strong as immigration, but it's somewhere in the mix. From what we know about what's shaping up, does it look like the Trump administration is getting Americans a good deal here?

GREEN: Well, I think you're right to point to the administration is trying to focus as one of the specific political areas that they've spent time on, and particularly on the trade front. I think whether or not this is a good agreement for the United States will depend on some of the details. Trade agreements, in the end, are very much about the details. And so we'll have to see what they come up with.

I think the longer term challenge for the U.S. in handling China is in how we can craft a policy that advances U.S. interests, hopefully in concert with friends and allies. And so that's an area that I think the administration has come short on in dealing with countries like China and trying to circle the wagons with the European Union and Japan and Australia.

And I know USTR Ambassador Lighthizer is trying to bring all those folks onboard because that's really what moves China, is to have a unified front in dealing with problems. And so far in this administration, I think the jury's still out on whether or not they've been able to do that.

SHAHANI: That's James Green, senior research fellow with the Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues at Georgetown University and former minister counselor for trade affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Thank you.

GREEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.