Quick take on China’s position paper on trade talks

By June 2, 2019 Quick Takes

On Sunday, June 2, the State Council Information Office (SCIO) published China’s position paper on trade talks with the U.S. Here’s the link to the full-text. Our quick take:

1) This is the first time that China attributed setbacks in the trade talks to U.S. backtracking – in fact, the position paper listed three U.S. breaches of commitment, calling it the “first, second and third U.S. backtracking”. The intention is clearly to rebut U.S. claim that China backtracked in the days leading up to the 11th round of talks in early May, laying blame on the U.S. side as an effort to reassure both domestic and international audiences that it wasn’t China’s fault that the talks broke down.

2) No surprises in the rest of the criticisms of the U.S. and in the defensive talking points. However, the position paper did make it clear that it was U.S. “exorbitant demands” which included “mandatory requirements concerning China’s sovereign affairs” that resulted in the breakdown of talks.

3) What’s most interesting in this position paper is the use of the phrase “China is looking forward, not backward” in the conclusion paragraph. In the weeks following the 1999 U.S. bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Chinese leaders used similar phrases after a period of heightened tensions with the U.S. We believe that the message China is hoping to convey to the Trump White House through this position paper is that as long as the “exorbitant demands” are lifted, China remains willing to commit to the reform promises it had already made in the agreement.