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What China wants: 3 things motivating China’s position in trade negotiations with the US

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Relations between the U.S. and China have deteriorated sharply in recent days after trade negotiations broke down, leading some to suggest we are on the cusp of a new “cold war.”

President Donald Trump blames the resumption of hostilities on China. Specifically, he and his negotiators say their Chinese counterparts backtracked on an agreement to change laws aimed at enforcing the deal, prompting Trump to raise tariffs on US$200 billion in imports and China to retaliate. Only a few weeks earlier, the two sides seemed very close to a deal.

So what led to China’s change of heart – if there was one?

As an expert on China’s development and economic reform, I believe the answer lies in trying to understand the situation from the Chinese perspective.

Chinese and U.S. negotiators seemed close to a deal – until they weren’t.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

China’s rise

China was a poor country not long ago. Its leaders effectively developed its productive and institutional capabilities by learning from foreign countries while allowing domestic companies to flourish over four decades of reform.

While this is commendable, as my research shows, and something other developing economies should emulate, it has also been controversial, particularly as China’s economy has become the world’s second-largest.

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In 2015, a 10-year plan known as “Made in China 2025” put in place a set of incentives to encourage Chinese companies to move from basic manufacturing to high-tech sectors such as electric cars, robotics and artificial intelligence. China’s goal is to have its companies globally competitive in these sectors by 2025.

However, in order to meet these ambitious goals, in some cases Chinese companies must rely on subsidies, government funding, forced technology transfer and intellectual property theft. To foreign political and business leaders, these practices smack of unfair competition.

Now that China has established strong capabilities, the threat of overtaking the U.S. in high-tech areas such as AI seems real and the methods being used appear unfair. That’s why, as part of the negotiations, the Trump administration was trying to get China to end its practice of forced technology transfer by changing their laws.

The U.S. said China agreed to do this, but the Chinese rejected those claims.

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Trade officials celebrate China’s entry into WTO in 2001.
AP Photo/Donald Stampfli

China’s internal debate

While China will understandably not give up its development goals to please the U.S., the methods used to achieve them are also controversial within China.

There are those who want to continue to reform the economy by making it more efficient and letting private companies – rather than the government – handle business decisions. Others want to keep the government at the center of things by operating state-owned companies and providing support to other sectors of the economy, old and new.

It is generally accepted that the reformers would like to see some of the very changes that the Trump administration has been pushing for, such as more protection for intellectual property rights, open competition and a modern financial system to allow better global integration and a free-floating currency.

Reforms such as these carry risks, however. China’s economy has been slowing, and some policymakers worry that now is not the time to rock the boat. In times of economic distress, China has shown a tendency to fall back on top-down controls that were the norm when China had a centrally planned economy.

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China has been here before. Based on my research on the process leading to China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001, China’s internal debates were intense. Some policymakers believe that China gave up too much for the privilege, including changing many domestic laws – just as the Trump administration is seeking.

Those memories are likely influencing the debate in China today.

National humiliation

A third factor provides an overarching context that is deeply integrated with the first two: China’s leaders and people will not tolerate “humiliation” by foreigners.

In the 1800s, Western powers won two so-called opium wars and received control over treaty-ports in China, allowing them to impose better terms of trade for themselves. The “century of humiliation” that followed is known to all Chinese, and China’s leaders have promised it will never happen again.

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Fast forward to today, and President Xi Jinping’s “China Dream” is to establish China as a leading world power on par with the U.S. Hence, President Xi cannot be seen at home as weak by giving into American demands. China feels it must preserve its path to domestic economic strength and decide on its own what changes to make to its economic system.

These sensitivities underlie the instability of the current U.S.-China negotiations and the relationship more generally. They also show why, even though China doesn’t want a trade war with the U.S., finding a deal that satisfies both countries is not impossible, but will be tricky.

China’s reformers seem to have lost the upper hand in recent weeks, making it even less likely that the Chinese will make changes that are compatible with what the U.S. wants. Ultimately, any deal will need to convey to Chinese citizens that President Xi did the right thing for the country.

Combine this with the fact that Trump may seem to Americans to have “won” the trade war simply by appearing tough on China – whether or not a deal is struck – and the prospects of a positive resolution look dim.The Conversation

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Penelope B. Prime, Clinical Professor of International Business, Georgia State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Four years ago this week: Trump’s escalator ride and the Charleston shooting. It’s not a coincidence

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It was four years ago (plus one day) when Donald Trump descended his golden elevator at Trump Tower and announced to the world that he was running for president to make America great again. It was a memorable day, although I don't think anyone believed at the time it would be more than a bizarre blip in presidential campaign history.

It was a patented Trumpian spectacle, ridiculous and over the top. Needless to say, the speech itself was offensive and absurd. He called Mexicans rapists and criminals, bragged about his allegedly enormous wealth and said that the U.S. had never beaten China and Japan at anything. He lied about the crowd size and insulted the press. In other words, it was the template for all the speeches that were to come, throughout his campaign and his presidency.

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‘They don’t trust him’: Ex-CIA operative says intel officials’ efforts to conceal information from Trump is ‘stunning’

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On Monday, former CIA officer Bob Baer told CNN's Erin Burnett that he had never heard of a situation before like the new reports that intelligence officials concealed information from President Donald Trump about efforts to plant malware in the Russian power grid.

"It is pretty stunning, the reporting here that they didn't tell him everything that they were doing because they were worried that he would tell the Russians themselves or make them stop doing it," said Burnett. "Could you imagine a scenario like this?"

"Never," said Baer. "In all my years in intelligence and around it and studying it and the rest, I have never heard of an operation intentionally kept away from the president. It just doesn't happen, ever. I know of no circumstances, and I'm talking 50, 60 years, that this has ever occurred."

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New Democrat backs impeachment as support grows among voters in conservative districts

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Supporters of opening an impeachment inquiry received a major boost of support on Monday when a Democratic Party rising star in a conservative district offered her support.

Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) defeated a Republican during the 2018 midterms in a seat that had never elected a Democrat during its 25 years of existence.

Porter, a tenured law professor, has received praise for her insightful questioning of administration officials.

The congresswoman explained her reasoning in a video and 9-page policy document posted to her website.

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