China’s former chief trade negotiator has hit out at his country’s handling of rising trade tensions with the US, saying that Beijing is failing to think “deeply enough” about its approach to the conflict.
Speaking on Sunday, Long Yongtu, a former minister in China’s foreign trade department told a conference that China has been too politically driven in talks so far, and should take a more pragmatic approach, focused on the economic realities of the trade war.
“If we have people who always talk about politics engaging in negotiations, we will never have a deal,” he said at the annual conference of media outlet Caixin, according to a report from the South China Morning Post.
“We don’t think deeply enough,” he added.
In particular, Long singled out China’s approach to tariffs on soybeans, one of the areas hardest hit by the trade war so far. China is the largest buyer of soybeans in the world, but has placed a 25% tariff on soybean imports from the US, and has turned to Brazil in an attempt to meet domestic demand.
Such a policy is misguided, Long said.
“China is in dire need of soybean imports, so why did we pick out soybeans from the beginning? Is this deep thinking?” — he asked.
“Agricultural products are very sensitive, and soybeans are very sensitive as well. We should have avoided targeting agricultural products because targeting agricultural products should be the last resort,” Long said.
“But we have targeted agricultural products, or soybeans, right from the start.”
Long, who led the trade negotiations which ultimately led to China joining the World Trade Organisation in 2001, made his comments as diplomats and negotiators from Washington and Beijing prepare for talks ahead of a crucial meeting between presidents Xi Jinping and Donald Trump at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Tensions between the two sides appear to be waning somewhat, with the US in particular signalling a more conciliatory stance when it comes to tariffs. President Trump has reportedly sidelined some of his most aggressively anti-China team members, with Peter Navarro, an uber-protectionist trade adviser, among those given a back seat.
The most significant sign that the US and China may actually come to some agreement came last week after reports surfaced that Beijing sent a letter to the Trump administration outlining possible concessions.
So far, the US and China have traded tit-for-tat tariffs on goods totalling $360 billion, with the US acting as the aggressor, and Trump threatening numerous times to place tariffs on all Chinese imports to the US, worth around $500 billion.