By Associated Press
BEIJING — The U.S.-Chinese trade war isn’t going away under President Joe Biden.
Biden won’t confront Beijing right away, economists say, because he wants to focus on the coronavirus and the economy. However, Biden looks set to renew pressure over trade and technology grievances that prompted President Donald Trump to hike tariffs on Chinese imports in 2017.
Negotiators might tone down Trump’s focus on narrowing China’s multibillion-dollar trade surplus with the United States and push harder to open its state-dominated economy, which matters more in the long run, economists say. But no abrupt tariff cuts or other big changes are expected.
“I think Biden will focus more on trying to extract structural reforms,” said Louis Kuijs of Oxford Economics. “It’s going to take some time before we get any shift or explicit announcements.”
Biden is evaluating tariffs on Chinese goods and wants to coordinate future steps with allies, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday. She gave no indication of possible changes.
“The president is committed to stopping China’s economic abuses,” Psaki said.
Trump acted on complaints that are shared by Europe and other traders, but Washington has little to show for its bruising war. It brought President Xi Jinping’s government to the bargaining table but roiled global trade, raised consumer prices and wiped out jobs.
The last major development was a year ago, when Beiing promised in the “Phase One” agreement of January 2020 to buy more soybeans and other U.S. exports and stop pressuring companies to hand over technology.
China fell short on those purchases. Amid the coronavirus turmoil, it bought about 55% of what it promised. As for tech policy, some economists say those changes matter but question whether it counts as a win. They say Beijing might have made them anyway to suit its own plans.
China faces more opposition than ever in Washington due to its trade record, territorial disputes with neighbors, crackdown on Hong Kong, reports of abuses against ethnic Muslims and accusations of technology theft and spying.
“The ground has shifted in a significant way,” said Nathan Sheets, a former Treasury undersecretary for international affairs in the Obama administration.
Katherine Tai, Biden’s choice to succeed U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, sounded a hawkish note on China in a speech this month.
“We face stiffening competition from a growing and ambitious China,’’ said Tai. “A China whose economy is directed by central planners who are not subject to the pressures of political pluralism, democratic elections or popular opinion.’’
That means China has to make changes if wants to make progress, said Raoul Leering, global trade analyst for ING. He said that while many of Trump’s statements were “close to nonsense,” he was right that China has more trade barriers and official intervention in the economy than the United States.
“It will depend on China, the speed at which they reform and change policies, to see whether Biden will roll back trade barriers,” he said.
Chinese officials say they want better relations but have announced no potential concessions.
Foreign Ministry Wang Yi, quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency, expressed hope Washington “will regain its rationality.” A foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, appealed to Washington to “bring China-U.S. relations back to the right track of development as soon as possible.”