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China relieved, US business ambivalent over easing of trade tensions
[BEIJING] China's government on Monday praised a significant cooling of trade tensions with the United States, saying agreement was in both nations' interests while state media trumpeted what it saw as Beijing's refusal to surrender to US economic threats.
China's relief, coming after talks last week between the world's two largest economies, elicited mixed reactions from US business leaders, with some happy to see the prospect of tariffs fade and others saying it would be hard for the Trump administration to regain momentum to address what they see as troubling Chinese policies.
A trade war was "on hold" after the United States and China agreed to drop their tariff threats while they worked on a wider trade agreement, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Sunday.
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will travel to China next week to help finalize a trade agreement, Mr Mnuchin told reporters at the White House on Monday.
In an interview earlier with CNBC, Mr Mnuchin characterized the US tariff plan as suspended. "If these things aren't fixed and we don't get what we want, the president can always put tariffs back on," Mr Mnuchin said.
Beijing and Washington said they have agreed to keep talking about measures under which China would import more US energy and agricultural commodities to narrow the US$335 billion annual US goods and services trade deficit with China.
On Monday, President Donald Trump said on Twitter that China had pledged to buy "massive amounts" of US agricultural products. He gave no specifics on China's planned commitments in the wake of the talks on Thursday and Friday in Washington.
Speaking at a daily briefing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said both countries had clearly recognised that the reaching of a consensus was good for all.
"China has never hoped for any tensions between China and the United States, in the trade or other arenas," Mr Lu said.
But Chinese media was also quick to point out how the country had successfully defended its interests.
Mei Xinyu, a commerce ministry researcher, wrote on the WeChat account of the overseas edition of the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily that the agreement preserved China's right to develop its economy as it sees fit, including moving up the value chain.
The deal also focused on China's "positive position" to increase imports rather than a "negative position" of getting it to cut exports, Mr Mei said.
The official China Daily said everyone could heave a sigh of relief at the ratcheting down of the rhetoric, and cited China's chief negotiator, Vice Premier Liu He, as saying the talks had proved to be "positive, pragmatic, constructive and productive".
"Despite all the pressure, China didn't 'fold', as US President Donald Trump observed. Instead, it stood firm and continually expressed its willingness to talk," the English-language newspaper said in an editorial.
"That the US finally shared this willingness, means the two sides have successfully averted the head-on confrontation that at one point seemed inevitable", it said.
During an initial round of talks this month in Beijing, the United States demanded that China reduce its trade surplus by US$200 billion. No dollar figure was cited in the countries' joint statement on Saturday.
Some in US business groups who had been pushing for tougher measures to pressure China to ease long-standing market barriers on US companies expressed disappointment.
James Zimmerman, a Beijing-based lawyer and a former chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, said the Trump administration's move to walk back its threatened trade actions was premature, and a "lost opportunity" for American companies, workers and consumers.
"The Chinese are in a state of quiet glee knowing that Mr Trump's trade team backed off on sanctions without getting any real and meaningful concessions out of Beijing," Mr Zimmerman said.
But Jacob Parker, vice president of China operations at the US-China Business Council, called the apparent de-escalation in trade tension "a great bit of progress".
"We were never supportive of tariffs, so any actions that can be taken to stop those from being implemented are positive from our view," Mr Parker said.
Goldman Sachs noted the lack of specifics in statements by US and Chinese officials, which it viewed mainly as evidence that both sides wanted to continue talking.
"We do not rule out the possibility that the Chinese team offered some tangible concessions which helped the progress of the talks, but as other aspects of an agreement are still in flux, has avoided stating these offers in public," Goldman Sachs wrote in a research note.