The March 1 deadline for trade negotiations between China and the United States is a “media topic created by the US side” and it could be extended to a later date such as May 1, said an opinion piece posted by a number of Chinese official media outlets on the eve of the latest round of trade talks between Beijing and Washington.
The opinion piece, which was first published on a social media account, Taoran Notes, on WeChat on Sunday, is not a direct statement from the Chinese government, but it was quickly picked up by a wide range of state media, including the social media outlets of the official People’s Daily and Beijing Daily, suggesting support for the argument.
“People focus on whether China and US can reach a deal or an understanding over trade before March 1,” the opinion piece said.
“But in fact, people may have fallen into an ‘agenda setting’ trap by the US.
“The idea of a March 1 deadline actually offers a cover for Sino-US trade talks. The real issue is not the time limit but whether China and US can reach a deal.
“If the talks go well but the two sides can’t reach a deal on technical details, then it can be postponed for another two months – for instance, it should be fine if it’s extended to May 1.”
The opinion piece was published and circulated online in China just as a US delegation arrived in Beijing for the latest round of trade talks.
The White House announced in a statement that sub-minister level officials will begin the meetings on Monday, led by deputy US trade representative Jeffrey Gerrish.
Higher level talks will take place on Thursday and Friday that will include US trade representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
China’s Ministry of Commerce said on Saturday that China’s Vice-Premier Liu He, the top economic aide to President Xi Jinping, will meet Lighthizer and Mnuchin.
The Chinese government has been trying to play down the significance of the March 1 deadline since December 1, when Xi and US President Donald Trump agreed to the trade war truce in Buenos Aires at the end of last year.
At a press conference hours after the summit in the Argentinian capital city, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi and deputy commerce minister Wang Shouwen did not mention the 90-day truce period.
The official Chinese statement and most state media reports about the meeting between Xi and Trump also did not mention the 90-day period.
The White House statement on the day of the summit said that Trump and Xi agreed to reach a deal “within the next 90 days” and threatened that the US would increase tariffs on US$200 billion worth of Chinese products to 25 per cent from 10 per cent “if at the end of this period of time, the parties are unable to reach an agreement”.
US trade representative Lighthizer said in December that March 1 was a “hard deadline”.
“China-US trade talks involve two sides. You can’t just look at what the US says, you have to factor in China’s considerations,” the opinion piece by Taoran Notes said.
“For China, if the talks go well, a deal will come naturally; if the talks don’t go well, everything else will be pointless.”