China-United States: the ambiguities of a "mini-agreement"


Let's put it on the count of cultural differences. The United States and China seem to have a slightly different appreciation of the outcome of the trade talks that ended last week. On the Chinese side, the Xinhua news agency remained sober: "The result is in line with the expectations of both parties. It is a step towards solving the economic and trade problems between China and the United States, which serves the interests of the Chinese and American peoples. Bilateral economic and trade problems can not be solved overnight, and ceaseless efforts must be made. "

Back from Washington, Deputy Prime Minister Liu He said "concrete progress" in what is presented as a "phased agreement". On the American side, Trump's tweet was, unsurprisingly, a little more enthusiastic: "The agreement I just reached with China is by far the most brilliant and the most important ever for the Great Patriot Farmers ( sic) in the history of our country. In fact, it raises the question of whether so much production can be produced? (sic) Our farmers will fend for themselves. Thank you, China! "

"Mini-deal '

What is it all about? The United States has dropped its 25% to 30% tax on 250 billion Chinese imports, while China has agreed to buy $ 40-50 billion worth of US agricultural products. So it would be the "mini-deal" that many felt before the start of negotiations, the thirteenth between the two countries and the first in the United States since they failed in May.

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The challenge: Washington demanded that Beijing abandon "unfair" business practices, such as forced technology transfer or subsidies to Chinese companies. Otherwise, the United States threatened to implement the tariff increase that had been postponed, allegedly out of respect for the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China. Beijing has simply agreed to buy more agricultural products, a major concession for Trump, since the agricultural electorate is key to eventual reelection. He had indicated that he preferred "a global agreement", but he seems to have obtained only a minimum agreement since the issue of forced transfers of technology has not been settled, nor has the issue of exchange rate.

It's a euphemism to say that the context was not very buoyant. Trump had warned that China's handling of unrest in Hong Kong would come into play. Another subject of tension is the treatment of the ethnic Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang in western China.

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The United States has placed Chinese security and technology entities, including 28 commercial (the Public Security Bureau, ie the Xinjiang police, is also targeted), involved in surveillance in the region autonomous, blacklisted. Experts in smartphone tracking, voice recognition or facial recognition, they can no longer import products like Intel chips or Microsoft software. Blacklisted are Hikvision, which specializes in video surveillance, and Megvii Technology and SenseTime, artificial intelligence companies. Some also offer medical diagnostic instruments or translation services. It will be much harder for them to partner with foreign universities or recruit talent. According to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, this is an excuse to punish Chinese companies: "It goes against the basic premise of international relations, it interferes with business. internal China and this goes against China's national security. There is no human rights problem in Xinjiang. "

According to several NGOs, more than one million Muslims, mainly ethnic Uygur Turkic speakers, are being held in political re-education camps. They must renounce Islam, speak Mandarin only, and learn obedience to the communist government. In July, more than 20 countries of the UN Human Rights Council signed a letter denouncing the treatment of Muslims. Beijing claims that these are "vocational training centers" to integrate them into Chinese society and fight against Islamism, separatism and terrorism (attacks in Xinjiang have been attributed to the Uyghurs.) It accuses the states United States to use the question "as a pretext for interfering in the internal affairs of China". In addition, the US has restricted the issuance of visas to government and Chinese Communist Party officials accused of being "responsible" or "complicit" in this "Xinjiang crackdown". According to experts, these measures were considered for months. The fact that the Trump administration unsheathed them just before the negotiations did not give the impression that she is eager to compose.

Basketball in the same basket

The situation was also complicated by the drama of the NBA, the National Basketball League. The tweet of Houston Rockets director Daryl Morey, "Fight for freedom. Support Hong Kong, "provoked the fury of China, fans, stars and TV channels included. In July, the NBA announced a five-year extension of its contract with Internet giant Tencent for $ 1.5 billion, which said it would not broadcast the matches. Morey's excuses did not improve the situation, failing to convince the Chinese while stifling the American public. Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted that the NBA was "shamelessly backpedaling". Julio Castro, a Democrat, said the United States should "run with (American values) and speak for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong and not let an authoritarian government intimidate US citizens."

Nevertheless, both countries have a clear interest in resolving the crisis. Both economies were severely affected by 18 months of trade war. China has reported a 6% growth in the third quarter, the lowest since 1992. And US exports are suffering. But if Trump has ensured that agricultural purchases "are two to three times larger than the maximum she has ever bought," China has not confirmed that it has committed $ 50 billion. An American spokeswoman later said Beijing had accepted this amount "increasing within two years". This has cast doubt on the fact that these expenses are spread over one or two years.

The Chinese Minister of Commerce has only said that the purchases correspond to the needs of China. It is also unclear whether a further tariff increase of 156 billion imports of Chinese products by mid-December will be applied by the United States or not. This "mini-agreement" should be drafted in three to five weeks and ratified by the two presidents at the Economic Cooperation for Asia-Pacific summit in Chile in mid-November. According to Trump, both parties would immediately begin work in "Phase 2". It would still be necessary for both parties to trust each other.

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