This story is being published as part of a content partnership with the South China Morning Post. It originally appeared on scmp.com on June 2, 2019.
China has laid the blame squarely on the United States for the breakdown of trade talks between the world’s two biggest economies, but hinted at its willingness to resume stalled negotiations with Washington while rejecting any attempt to force concessions from Beijing.
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In a white paper on China’s official position on the trade talks released by the State Council Information Office on Sunday, Beijing made it clear the U.S. government “should bear the sole and entire responsibility” for the current stalemate, and hit back at allegations that Beijing had backtracked from its earlier promises.
On the specific allegation that China significantly changed the text under negotiation after the latest round of talks, the white paper said it was “common practice” to make new proposals and adjustments as the talks progressed, something the U.S. had done consistently.
“The more the U.S. government is offered, the more it wants,” the document said.
At a press conference in Beijing on Sunday, Wang Shouwen, China’s vice-minister for commerce, accused the U.S. of being “irresponsible” in accusing Beijing of backtracking on its promises.
“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” he said in English, the only time he strayed from his native tongue.
Meanwhile, the white paper said that Beijing remained “committed to credible consultations based on equality and mutual benefit”, but would “not give ground on matters of principle”.
When asked what the U.S. side needed to do for the negotiations to continue, Wang referred to a preliminary agreement made by Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump in Argentina in December.
“The consensus then was to not raise tariffs, and work towards canceling them,” he said.
Despite the presidents’ efforts, Beijing’s white paper came just a day after it introduced new tariffs on goods imported from the United States.
In a separate allegation, Sunday’s document accused the U.S. of insisting on “mandatory requirements concerning China’s sovereign affairs.”
Though it did not elaborate, the Post reported earlier that Washington had asked Beijing to “completely open its internet” as part of the trade deal. And at a seminar in Beijing on Friday, a group of former Chinese officials accused the U.S. of using the trade talks to undermine China’s national security on issues like Taiwan and the South China Sea. They also did not elaborate.
Beijing has been increasingly critical of Washington in recent weeks over the breakdown of the trade talks and its treatment of Chinese technology giant Huawei.
On Friday it said it planned to publish a list of “unreliable” foreign entities deemed to have damaged the interests of Chinese firms, based on anti-monopoly and national security grounds.A day later, Beijing announced an investigation into US logistics company FedEx for the “wrongful delivery of packages,” after Huawei accused FedEx of re-routing of its packages from China to the US.
Speaking about the case, Wang said that any foreign company suspected of breaking the law was subject to investigation.
At the same time, the lawful rights of foreign firms operating in China would always be protected, he said.
When asked about U.S. firms’ complaints that customs clearance was taking longer since the start of the trade war, he advised companies to contact the relevant authorities.
“If certain firms are faced with specific issues, they can talk to local commerce departments,” he said.
On the matter of exports of rare earth minerals, Wang repeated Beijing’s comments of the past week.
“With the world’s richest rare earth resources we are willing to satisfy the normal needs of other countries,” he said. “But it’s unacceptable if other countries use rare earths imported from China to suppress China’s development.”
On the possibility of a summit between Xi and Trump on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, later this month — as suggested by the American president in May — Wang said he had no information on the matter.
Shi Yinhong, an adviser to China’s State Council and a specialist in U.S. affairs at Renmin University in Beijing, said that despite the pressure from the US, Beijing had shown restraint in its efforts to fight back.
“In the areas of trade and technology, China has less leverage than the U.S., but it has kept its retaliatory measures within these areas,” he said. “If it extended its efforts to areas like North Korea and Iran, it could do much greater damage to Trump.”
On the chances of the two sides achieving a breakthrough in their trade negotiations by the time of the G-20 summit, Shi said: “The difference is too wide and would be impossible for them to bridge in a month.”
The Trump White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.