DAVOS, Switzerland—President Donald Trump said on Jan. 22 that China’s human rights record and the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong are part of phase two trade discussions with China, in response to a question from The Epoch Times.
“We are discussing that already, yes, we would like to see we can do something” about the human rights issues in China and Hong Kong, Trump said at a press conference in the Swiss Alpine town of Davos, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum.
“We’re doing a trade deal, and it’s a very big deal. Phase one is done, phase two is being discussed. We are discussing aspects of” human rights as well, he added.
The Trump administration so far has been cautious about disclosing the key demands that were brought to the table during the trade talks, but took serious actions last year to penalize the Chinese regime on human rights violations.
In support of protesters in Hong Kong, Trump signed into law in November 2019 two human rights bills that passed the House and the Senate unanimously.
In October 2019, the administration also blacklisted dozens of Chinese organizations, which included leading artificial intelligence and video surveillance companies for their involvement in human rights violations in China.
Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have also voiced condemnation of China’s treatment of its citizens.
“I want to make clear that China’s repressive campaign in Xinjiang is not about terrorism. It’s about China’s attempt to erase its own citizens,” Pompeo told reporters during the United Nations General Assembly in September 2019.
Despite a partial agreement signed with China, the uncertainty is likely to persist in 2020 as U.S.–China bilateral relations go beyond trade, according to Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), an outspoken critic of the Beijing regime.
“This is also about human rights,” Scott told The Epoch Times in an email.
Despite a partial U.S.-China trade truce, national security, Hong Kong, and human rights are likely to be the focal points this year in relations with China, especially for Congress, experts argue.
The United States and China signed last week an initial trade deal, making an important breakthrough in the nearly two-year trade conflict.
As part of the deal, Beijing has committed to buy $200 billion worth of additional U.S. goods and services over the next two years, including $40 billion to $50 billion of agricultural goods each year.
“Those are numbers nobody’s ever heard of before. And that number can grow with time, it’s going to grow substantially, I predict,” Trump said at the press conference.
“Phase one turned out to be much bigger than we anticipated,” he added.
Included in the deal are other commitments by Beijing such as protection of intellectual property, ending technology transfers, transparency on foreign exchange practices, and opening China’s financial services markets to U.S. companies.
Trump promised to end punitive tariffs on China after the completion of the phase two deal.
“I’m leaving them on, because otherwise, we have no cards to negotiate with,” Trump said last week during the trade deal signing ceremony at the White House.
While the next round of trade talks are expected to begin soon, Trump didn’t indicate any timetable or deadline for the completion of the deal.
Speaking at the press conference, White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the China trade deal, along with the newly passed U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement, is “going to add a lot of growth this year and the years ahead.”
Some, however, raise skepticism over China’s purchase targets.
“We have to see whether the Chinese will keep their word,” said Peter Morici, an economist and business professor at the University of Maryland.
According to the data assembled by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, the goal to sell an additional $200 billion worth of U.S. goods and services to China is “unrealistic.”
“With unrealistic export targets, the deal may be doomed from the start, imperiling other beneficial aspects of Chinese commitments in the agreement and stoking a re-escalation of trade tensions,” Chad Bown, an economist at the PIIE, said in a report.
During the press conference, Trump said that he met with World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Roberto Azevêdo in Davos to discuss reforms to the multilateral organization.
“Roberto and I have a tremendous relationship, and we’re going to do something that I think will be very dramatic,” Trump said, adding that both sides would start working in the next two weeks.
Trump has repeatedly called the organization a “disaster,” claiming it treats the United States unfairly. He criticized the WTO for allowing China to take “tremendous advantages” by classifying it as a developing nation.
During a meeting in Washington last week, the United States, the European Union, and Japan agreed to strengthen WTO rules to prevent state subsidies, a move that clearly targeted China.
In the past decade, China has used massive government subsidies to create its own national champions in key industries, according to experts. Unfair and trade-distortive state subsidies have become a major problem in the world trading system, and the existing WTO rules have been insufficient in addressing the issue.