Shanghai round breathes new life into trade talks

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File photo taken on Nov. 23, 2016 shows the national flags of the United States and China during the 27th Session of the China-U.S. Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) in Washington D.C., capital of the United States. (Xinhua/Yin Bogu)

Chinese and US negotiators concluded their latest round of trade talks in Shanghai on Wednesday without a post-talks toast as they failed to reach any breakthrough in their trade standoff, although they did agree to continue their negotiations.

Given the complexity of Sino-US economic relations and the hard nuts of disagreement that they are trying to crack, that has offered some cheer to counter the downbeat sentiment that had prevailed before the talks began on Tuesday.

China and the United States have different economic systems, are at different development stages, and have different approaches to international relations: China pursues cooperation for mutual benefits; while the US views everything as zero-sum competition in which it can be the only winner.

With such diametrically opposed approaches, it could be expected that the talks would encounter a speed bump, which they did in the previous round.

Washington tried to make Beijing carry the burned wok for this, claiming Beijing had gone back on previously made commitments. However, it was Washington’s insistence on turning up the gas on its intransigence that led to the draft being put in the trash can. To claim that its conscience is clear would be to tell a fib.

Beijing has no reason to bow to Washington’s unreasonable demands. And it is prepared for more extreme pressure from the US.

However, that does not mean it is uncompromising. The fact that it discussed the purchase of US agricultural goods in the latest talks shows it is negotiating in good faith.

It is a positive sign that they have sat down at the table again to talk. Looking ahead, the two most likely outcomes of the talks when they reach their final conclusion are the two sides reach a trade deal in some form or the other and agree on a way to manage their competition, or they don’t. In which case, things will go from bad to worse.

While the first option would undoubtedly be the better option for both — as they no doubt agree — the nitty-gritty of how to achieve that without either feeling they have conceded more than the other is proving a stubborn knot to untie.

So while there was no reason to uncork any Champagne on Wednesday, that the talks in Shanghai were reportedly “frank, highly efficient and constructive”, and the two sides have agreed to further discussions in the US in September, shows they are still trying to untangle the knot.

So let’s take that as grounds for optimism, since if there’s the will, there’s surely the way. If both sides take a pragmatic and realistic approach to their relations and work to build trust, they will eventually be able to come to some arrangement. CHINA DAILY

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