"We're going to have very frank discussions", U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a TV interview broadcast on Monday. Which is all well and good. But whether there will be any positive outcomes from the discussions in Beijing on Thursday and Friday will depend on whether the delegation he is heading comes to try and lay down the law to China or amicably find ways to resolve the trade feud that has erupted.
Certainly, Mnuchin and the other members of the U.S. trade delegation, which will reportedly include Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, trade adviser Peter Navarro and economic adviser Larry Kudlow, should not attribute China's lowering of its tariffs on some imports, such as automobiles and medicines, to the United States' targeting of its imports and investments. Such a misreading of China's actions would be detrimental to having heart-to-heart conversations to clear the air.
The time when China could be forced to open its doors is long past, and Beijing is not opening them wider now simply to appease others.
As President Xi Jinping highlighted at the Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan last month, further opening-up is necessary at this stage of China's development. Broadening market entry, strengthening intellectual property rights protection and lowering tariffs on cars are not moves intended to reduce the surplus with certain trade partners; if that is the case it is merely an added bonus. Instead, they are long-signaled moves to benefit the country and meet people's demands for greater choice.
Data from the World Trade Organization show that China's imports have grown at a faster rate than not only the world average, but also that of the U.S., Germany and Japan. In the coming five years, it is estimated China will import goods and services worth more than $10 trillion.
That will be a big boost for those countries exporting to China, and to world trade as a whole given the global supply chains.
It is not unreasonable for China to seek quid pro quo, to want protection for China's intellectual property rights and for developed countries to remove their restrictions on ordinary high-tech exports to China.
If the U.S. delegation comes to China believing Beijing's resolve to open wider to the outside world is a matter of expediency under pressure from Washington, it will likely mean a lot of time is wasted setting the record straight.
Time that would be better spent putting an end to the current quarrel and exploring ways to put bilateral trade ties on a sound footing for the future.