WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump has warned that his country has the option to separate from its deeply intertwined relationship with China, despite the powers’ pledges to move forward on a trade deal.
Tensions have been mounting between Beijing and Washington on a number of fronts, including trade, although the two sides signed a phase one deal earlier this year to bring a truce to a bruising trade war.
The US “certainly does maintain a policy option, under various conditions, of a complete decoupling from China. Thank you!” Mr Trump tweeted on Thursday.
The US President wrote that he was responding to comments by his trade representative Robert Lighthizer, who has been at the forefront of trade negotiations with Beijing.
Mr Lighthizer told a congressional committee this week that China so far has been living up to the terms of the phase one agreement that eased the dispute, but that decoupling the two economic giants is now impossible.
“That was a policy option years ago, but I don’t think it’s a policy or reasonable policy option at this point,” Mr Lighthizer said.
The phase one trade deal calls for China to buy US$200 billion (S$279 billion) in additional US goods and services over two years.
Mr Lighthizer described himself as a hardliner on China policy, but his admission that the world’s two largest economies are inextricably linked caused some angst in Republican circles.
Yesterday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters that “trying to artificially cut global industrial and supply chains, and using political power to change the laws of the economy, is neither realistic nor wise”.
“This cannot solve the US’ problems and will only cause ordinary Americans more harm,” he added.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held talks on Wednesday in Hawaii with Mr Yang Jiechi, a veteran maker of Chinese foreign policy, to discuss soaring tensions.
Besides trade, the US has sharply criticised China over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, an upcoming security law in Hong Kong and its mass detention of Uighurs in the north-western Xinjiang region.
Mr David Stilwell, the assistant secretary for East Asia, told reporters that China’s attitude in the talks could not be described as forthcoming.
He said, however, that China did recommit to following through on the trade agreement and added that efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons would be another area of potential cooperation.
China described the Hawaii talks as “constructive”, but its Foreign Ministry said Mr Yang told Mr Pompeo that Washington needs to respect Beijing’s positions on key issues.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS