China's Commerce minister urges business as usual with US

Wang Wentao said bilateral trade between the two countries is deeply integrated and 'cooperation will benefit both sides' while 'struggle will hurt both'; however, it is far from clear what stance the Biden Administration will take on 'economic cooperation'

China's Commerce minister urges business as usual with US
Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao speaks during a State Council Information Office news conference in Beijing on February 24, 2021. Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/ Reuters.

(ATF) China's Commerce Minister Wang Wentao said on Wednesday (Feb 24) he is looking forward to trade and economic cooperation with his counterparts in the United States.

Wang spoke at a press conference held by the State Council Information Office when a reporter asked him to comment on "the next phase" of trade relations with the US.

The reporter noted that the international community paid great attention to the communication between China and the US, especially whether the two nations can rebuild their trade dialogue.

CNA said the minister replied: "The Chinese side always believes that the essence of China-US economic and trade relations is of mutual benefit and [yields] a win-win result. The interests of both sides are deeply integrated. Cooperation will benefit both sides, and struggle will hurt both. Cooperation is the only correct choice."

Wang Wentao noted that despite the epidemic in 2020, and sluggish global trade, the trade between China and the United States still went up against that trend and difficult situation. 

He said China was the United States' largest trading partner. The bilateral trade and investment cooperation between the two sides had made positive contributions to their respective economic recoveries. This showed that economic and trade cooperation was a force that promotes the relationship between the two countries and brings tangible benefits to both parties. 

"China is willing to strengthen exchanges between the two countries in the economic and trade field, and carry out cooperation on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit, so as to benefit the two peoples, and this will also benefit the world," Wang said.

"It should be said that in the next stage, I also look forward to our cooperation with our colleagues in the United States.. [with] efforts, in accordance with the spirit of the call between the two heads of state, to strengthen communication, enhance understanding, focus on cooperation, manage differences, and push bilateral economic and trade relations back to the track of cooperation," Wang said.

Team Biden focused on domestic priorities

The Biden Administration has, in its first month, focused primarily on the rollout of a mass vaccination programme to counter the spread of the coronavirus, along with rejoining the Paris Agreement on countering climate change, unwinding controversial measures imposed by former president Donald Trump on immigration and care for the environment, as well as getting a large stimulus package through Congress (which may happen on Saturday Asian time). So, trade with China is a topic that has yet to be widely discussed.

But given comments made so far by Biden's top officials at confirmation hearings in Washington, trade with China is a field strewn with mines it may not be in a great rush to tackle. For example, it is unclear what stance the Biden Administration will take in regard to the boycott imposed on Chinese cotton late last year.

The US Customs and Border Protection agency announced in December that it had placed a ban on cotton and cotton products from the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), one of China’s largest producers, because it was a quasi-military organisation that uses forced labour of detained Uighur Muslims.

China rejected the claim, but concern in the US and among Western nations about abuse of Uighurs in Xinjiang – and other issues such as Beijing's occupation of the South China Sea – are regarded as so serious it could be difficult for Biden to ease US-China tensions.

Meanwhile, there are a range of other contentious trade and economic issues that will be appraised by Wang's counterparts as they settle into their new roles.

Some analysts believe economic cooperation might only come if China adopts a far more proactive approach on countering global warming, which is one of the new US President's key concerns.

So, it could be months before it becomes clearer how these matters will play out.

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US-China China Commerce minister Wang Wentao economic cooperation bilateral trade Cotton ban Xinjiang Biden Administration