The Chinese regime has indirectly called into question the rigidity of the March 1 deadline for Beijing and Washington to reach a trade deal, as a new round of trade talks between the two countries commences.
On Feb. 10, several state-run media outlets re-published an opinion piece that said the March 1 deadline was a “topic of public opinion created by the U.S. side,” and that it could be pushed to a later date, such as May 1.
The opinion article, not itself an official statement by the Chinese regime, was first published on a social media account called “Taoran Notes” on the popular messaging app WeChat on Feb. 10. Taoran Notes is operated by state-run newspaper Economic Daily. The piece was then re-posted by a number of state-run media outlets including People’s Daily and Beijing Daily, suggesting official support for this position.
The two countries are currently trying to negotiate a trade deal before March 1, when U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports are scheduled to increase to 25 percent from the current 10 percent.
The deadline was negotiated between President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping upon agreeing to a 90-day trade truce during a meeting at the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Argentina on Dec. 1.
“Everyone focuses on whether China and the United States can reach an agreement or understanding on trade by March 1,” the opinion article read.
“But in fact, on this question, people may have fallen into an ‘agenda-setting’ trap by the United States,” the article continued. “The idea of a March 1 deadline is actually a tool used to further Sino–US trade talks.”
The article continued to downplay the deadline’s significance: “If the talks go well, but a deal cannot be reached by March 1 due to technical issues, then there shouldn’t be an issue for it to be postponed for another two months—For instance, it should be fine for it to be extended to May 1,” the article read.
The piece circulated on Chinese social media just before the two countries were scheduled to resume trade talks in Beijing.
Working-level discussions between Chinese and U.S. trade officials kicked off Feb. 11, with the U.S. side led by deputy trade representative Jeffrey Gerrish.
High-level discussions are scheduled for later this week, in which U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will meet with China’s Vice-Premier Liu He.
Both sides struck an optimistic beat going into this latest round of talks.
White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway, in a Fox News interview on Feb. 11, expressed confidence that the two countries were getting close to a trade agreement. The Chinese side also hoped “to see a good result,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a news briefing in Beijing the same day.
The Chinese regime has sought to minimize the significance of the March 1 deadline since the G-20 summit meeting occurred.
In the summit’s immediate aftermath, official statements and reports from Chinese state media did not refer to the 90-day deadline for negotiations. Some outlets, however, started referring to the deadline later on.
In contrast, the White House released a statement on Dec. 1 that said Trump and Xi had agreed to reach a deal “within the next 90 days,” noting explicitly that a U.S. tariff increase on Chinese imports would kick in “if at the end of this period of time, the parties are unable to reach an agreement.”
Lighthizer clarified in December that March 1 was a “hard deadline.”