Did China Blink In The Trade War With Trump?

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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The Chinese president appeared to offer President Donald Trump a handful of trade concessions in a speech Tuesday, but it is unclear if Beijing will come through on its promises.

Washington and Beijing are locked in a fierce battle over trade, with each side threatening the other with hard-hitting tariffs on key exports, but Chinese President Xi Jinping signaled Tuesday that China may be willing to make certain compromises on trade.

Xi vowed to greatly improve market access, strengthen the protection of intellectual property rights, and expand imports by reducing trade barriers. “We will considerably reduce auto import tariffs, and at the same time reduce import tariffs on some other products,” he explained at the yearly Boao Forum. The markets seemed to respond positively.

The Chinese president’s comments followed Trump’s criticisms on Twitter of China’s high tariffs on foreign vehicle imports.

Whether or not Xi’s remarks constitute trade concessions remains to be seen, as most of the Chinese president’s statements were reiterations of past promises, many of which have gone unfulfilled. In many ways, Xi’s speech rehashed previous addresses, such as the one he delivered in Davos last year.

“There is little new in this speech, these broad promises have been made before, and none of them go to the real heart of the U.S. angst over China,” Bill Bishop, author of the Sinocism China Newsletter, explained to Axios. “Maybe this time the mooted reforms will be implemented, and maybe Xi is leaving it to his subordinates to quickly fill in the specific details and timelines, but overall I thought this speech was predictable and underwhelming.”

The promise to reduce auto import tariffs was actually announced last month by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, and China has yet to deliver on that promise.

While Chinese leadership often condemns protectionism and promotes multilateral cooperation in globalized, China stands accused of practicing protectionism and engaging coercive economic aggression. Beijing touts market liberalization but is often called out for placing unfair restrictions on foreign companies pursuing greater market access.

The Chinese government also often fails to clearly articulate how it is going to address the concerns at the heart of the U.S.-China trade dispute.

“There’s been a lot of happy talk over the past year that China is going to liberalize and change, but that happy talk has been as vague as could possibly be,” Dr. Scott Kennedy, deputy director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Daily Caller News Foundation before the Chinese president’s speech at the Boao Forum.

“Everyone remembers five years ago, China issued a document saying they were going to issue major market reforms. People pointed to that as a potential turning point in China’s economic governance. That was followed by a nothingburger,” he said. “If there’s any seriousness in China’s position, it’s time for Xi Jinping to put up or shut up.”

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