It could not have been a more dramatic shift in the bilateral economic and trade relationship between China and the US. Just a few months ago, China and the US were engaged in a war of words on trade that led some observers to predict a trade conflict was imminent. A few months later, after a state visit by US President Donald Trump to China, US business leaders are declaring that now is the greatest time for business between the two countries than it has been in years.
“The time is now if you want to do business with China. You better pack your bag and get over here and talk to people,” Fred Wacker, owner of Cross Four Ranch in Montana, said in a recent interview in Beijing with the Global Times.
“I really believe the relationship on trade between our two countries is at a higher point than it has been in years and years,” said Wacker, who also serves on the board of directors of the Montana Stockgrowers Association. The association signed a deal worth $300 million with Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com Inc for beef imports and investment during Trump’s visit to Beijing last week.
The Montana rancher said the business environment between China and the US has improved due to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s and Trump’s shared focus on economic and trade cooperation rather than “political stuff.”
Business over politics
Indeed, during Trump’s two-day visit, the two countries were focused primarily on business deals rather than “usual, petty political disputes that we have seen in past visits by some US presidents,” Jiang Yong, a research fellow at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times on Monday.
During the trip, Chinese and American companies inked 34 business agreements and memoranda of US President Donald Trump’s state visit to China, which sparked business deals worth more than $250 billion, has laid out a positive path for future Sino-US business cooperation – one that will focus on trade rather than political disputes. However, volatilities will persist within the bilateral trade relationship due to lingering differences. understanding worth a total of $253.5 billion, spanning a wide range of sectors including energy, agriculture and infrastructure, according to China’s Ministry of Commerce on Thursday.
In a statement, the ministry described Trump’s visit as “fruitful” and said that the “historical meeting between the leaders of the two countries could offer strategic guidance for the sound development of the bilateral economic and trade relationship.”
It added that China is willing to further focus on economic and trade cooperation with the US and expand other areas of cooperation.
The US Department of Commerce, which led a US delegation of 29 leaders of some of the largest US companies to China, also said in a statement on Thursday that the deals could form a solid foundation for a stronger overall China-US relationship.
Jiang said that the deals, though some of them were long in the making, could not have been possible if the two sides had not fostered a positive tone and demonstrated their willingness to work together regardless of any differences they may have.
“These are great deals for US companies and they could definitely add points to Trump’s performance as the US president,” he said, adding there is still room and willingness from both sides to work together “if they continue to focus on trade.”
“So what we can draw from this trip is that Trump is more interested in economic interests unlike past US presidents, who wanted to pursue both economic interests and political interests,” Jiang said. “Trade is something China can work on with the US because, obviously, China doesn’t want anybody to come here and criticize the way our country is run, but if you want to do business, we can talk.”
Wacker also said that the two leaders should focus on trade. ‘‘The one thing that I really feel is that a president of the United States or a president of China should not go to another leading nation and trading partner and tell them how they should run their political business.”
“The two presidents are talking trade and talking business and they are not trying to hold each other up,” Wacker continued.
Such a positive dynamic between US and Chinese officials can create a much better environment for business cooperation, according to Zhao Li, co-founder and president of China Iowa Group, which is based in Iowa and also represents the Iowa-headquartered Stine Seed Co in China.
“This is a very special, historic moment… our two governments very much hope to enhance economic and trade cooperation, so I think this is such a great opportunity,” Zhao, who was also part of the US CEO delegation to China, told the Global Times.
“We hope, under such an environment, we can improve our cooperation with [Chinese] companies,” she said, adding that agricultural trade has gained much attention from both Chinese and US governments.
Stine Seed signed a deal with Beijing W. Seed worth $10 million during the visit, according to the US Department of Commerce.
Jim Miller, president of the US Soybean Export Council (USSEC), also said that the visit offered a chance for the two leaders to address differences and avoid confrontation.
“It’s an opportunity for them to work out those differences… and not have any retaliations of any kind against anybody and to move forward and make us stronger trading partners,” Miller, who was also part of the US CEO delegation to China, told the Global Times.
The USSEC signed a $3.4 billion deal with the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Foodstuffs, Native Produce and Animal By-products on soybean imports during the visit. Miller added the US soybean industry is now seeing even more growth potential in China.
However, Jiang said that, although the China-US relationship will see more business cooperation under Trump, future volatilities are expected.
“With this trip, we do feel that we have passed a storm, but it’s not going to be all sunshine hereafter,” he said. “There will definitely be some disputes ahead.”
Shane Tedjarati, president of Honeywell Global High Growth Regions, said, although Trump’s visit was a “special” one that helped build relations and confidence between the two countries, it will not fix everything.
“Let’s be realistic, one visit doesn’t do everything,” Tedjarati told the Global Times, noting that more can be done on both sides to ensure market access and balanced trade.
“We need to be very thoughtful in making sure Chinese companies have very good access to the US market and that American companies have very good access to the Chinese market. So on both sides, I think there is more that can be done,” he said.
Honeywell, which generated a $2.4 billion revenue in China in 2016, signed two separate agreements during the visit, one with China’s Oriental Energy Co and one with Spring Airlines, to allow the US company to further supply its products.