As Trump touts trade war truce, China holds its tongue

Gulf Times Business - - BUSINESS -

As White House of­fi­cials fanned out to talk up what US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump called “an in­cred­i­ble deal” with China to hit pause in their trade war, Beijing has said lit­tle on a pact that cheered mar­kets but left many ques­tions unan­swered.

China’s for­eign min­istry, the only gov­ern­ment depart­ment that holds a daily brief­ing for­eign me­dia can at­tend, has re­peat­edly re­ferred ques­tions on de­tails to the com­merce min­istry, which has yet to say any­thing.

The com­merce min­istry is due to hold its weekly news brief­ing on Thurs­day.

A lack of de­tail from the Chi­nese side has left in­vestors and an­a­lysts won­der- ing if Trump’s ex­u­ber­ance is war­ranted, and if de­tails touted by the White House but left out of Chi­nese re­port­ing on the agree­ment are in ques­tion.

One Chi­nese of­fi­cial told Reuters of­fi­cials were “wait­ing for the lead­ers to re­turn” be­fore pub­li­cis­ing de­tails.

Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and his most se­nior of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the com­merce min­is­ter and the coun­try’s two top diplo­mats, are in Por­tu­gal, and due back in China to­mor­row.

The White House said China would agree to pur­chase a not yet agreed, but very sub­stan­tial, amount of farm, en­ergy, in­dus­trial, and other prod­ucts from the United States.

It also said China had agreed to start buy­ing farm prod­ucts from US farm­ers im­me­di­ately. China has made no di­rect men­tion of spe­cific goods it will buy.

Wash­ing­ton, but not Beijing, has also said China will cut im­port tar­iffs on Amer­i­can cars.

Beijing’s de­ci­sion to keep things vague, for now, may re­flect a de­sire to avoid be­ing seen as hav­ing ca­pit­u­lated un­der pres­sure — the sides have 90 days to reach a deal — or may be a hedge against Trump’s un­pre­dictabil­ity, an­a­lysts said.

“Ap­par­ently, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment doesn’t want its peo­ple to con­sider the agree­ment as a fail­ure for China,” said Fang Kecheng, a Chi­nese me­dia re­searcher at the Uni­ver­sity of Pennsylvania.

“The 90-day limit sounds like an ul­ti­ma­tum given by the strong ac­tor to the weak ac­tor,” added Fang, a for­mer jour­nal­ist for the pub­li­ca­tion South­ern Weekly.

The US em­bassy in Beijing posted a Chi­nese ver­sion of the White House’s read­out of the meet­ing on the pop­u­lar WeChat plat­form on so­cial me­dia, but re­post­ing it was not pos­si­ble.

China’s am­bas­sador to the United States brushed off ques­tions about the dif­fer­ent ac­counts of the Trump-Xi meet­ing.

“I think that if you put the two press re­leases to­gether, you can see what ba­si­cally hap­pened,” Cui Tiankai told Reuters in Wash­ing­ton on Mon­day af­ter re­turn­ing from Buenos Aires, where he had joined Xi’s del­e­ga­tion.

Cui added that ne­go­tia­tors would ac­tu­ally have less than 90 days to reach a deal be­cause of hol­i­days in both coun­tries over the next three months.

Be­hind Beijing’s ap­par­ent cau­tion may also be a whiff of fear that the truce might not last, said An­drew Gil­holm, of the con­sul­tancy Con­trol Risks.

“They don’t want to look like they’ve gone across the Pa­cific of­fer­ing con­ces­sions to pla­cate Trump, and then a few weeks later es­ca­la­tion re­sumes,” he said.

To be sure, many tech-savvy Chi­nese were aware of the news, with some ex­press­ing un­hap­pi­ness on­line about a lack of de­tail from state me­dia.

How­ever, a bro­ker­age re­port spec­u­lated that a three-per­cent jump in Chi­nese stocks on Mon­day was partly stoked by en­thu­si­asm based on op­ti­mistic but vague re­port­ing in Chi­nese news­pa­pers.

China’s ret­i­cence con­trasted with the pa­rade of US of­fi­cials talking about the deal on Mon­day, in­clud­ing Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin and White House Eco­nomic Ad­viser Larry Kud­low.

That may re­flect dif­fer­ences in po- lit­i­cal cul­ture more than any­thing, said Luwei Rose Luqiu, a jour­nal­ism pro­fes­sor at Hong Kong Bap­tist Uni­ver­sity.

For meet­ings such as the Trump-Xi din­ner, the ini­tial of­fi­cial news re­port is typ­i­cally drafted by the for­eign min­istry and ap­proved by the Gen­eral Of­fice of the rul­ing Com­mu­nist Party’s Cen­tral Com­mit­tee, she said.

More of­ten than not, such state­ments are short on de­tails, said Luqiu, who covered meet­ings be­tween Chi­nese and for­eign lead­ers dur­ing 20 years as a re­porter with Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV.

“Ev­ery time we covered this kind of bi­lat­eral meet­ing we had no de­tailed in­for­ma­tion from the Chi­nese side,” she said, adding that Chi­nese me­dia were only al­lowed to pub­lish the re­ports of state news agency Xin­hua. “This is China’s po­lit­i­cal cul­ture.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Qatar

© PressReader. All rights reserved.