Trump renews threat to cut ties with Beijing, a day after high-level U.S.-China talks
By Andrea Shalal and David Brunnstrom
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump renewed his threat to cut ties with China Thursday, the day after his top diplomats had talked to Beijing and his trade representative said he was not considering the decoupling of the U.S. and Chinese economies as a viable option.
The top US diplomat for East Asia described US-China relations as "tense" after their first high-level diplomatic talks in months, although he said Beijing had again committed to the first part of a trade deal that was signed this year The coming weeks would show whether progress had been made.
Trump has made realigning the massive U.S. trade deficit with China a top priority, but relations have deteriorated steadily as his campaign worsened in November.
"Ambassador Lighthizer (yesterday in committee) was not to blame for not being able to express myself clearly," Trump said in a tweet referring to his sales representative, Robert Lighthizer.
"But the United States will certainly retain the political option of decoupling from China in a variety of conditions."
Lighthizer told a House committee on Wednesday that it did not consider this to be feasible.
"Do I think you can sit down and decouple the US economy from the Chinese economy?" he said. "No, I think that was a political option years ago. I don't think it's a ... reasonable political option at this point."
His office had no immediate comment on Trump's tweet.
US-China relations have reached their lowest point in years since the Chinese coronavirus pandemic hit hard, and Trump and his government have repeatedly accused Beijing of not being transparent about the outbreak.
MULTIPLE FRICTION POINTS
The countries are also at odds over China's efforts to impose new security laws on Hong Kong, which have prompted Trump to initiate proceedings to remove the United States' special treatment for the territory.
Trump made the deterioration in the relationship clear last month when he said he had no interest in speaking to President Xi Jinping, whom he celebrated as a friend, and suggested that he even cut ties with China.
Lighthizer said he expected more supply chains to move to the U.S. due to tax and regulatory changes, but also noted that the U.S.-China trade agreement resulted in significant positive changes and an increase in Chinese purchases of U.S. goods and services would lead.
The US-China Phase 1 trade agreement provides for China to purchase additional $ 200 billion in US goods and services within two years. However, skeptics say that the pandemic and the resulting economic slowdown will make Beijing difficult to achieve its goals for this year.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi on Wednesday for a meeting in Hawaii, but they don't seem to have done much to improve sentiment.
At the start of the Hawaii meeting, Trump signed a law calling for sanctions against those responsible for the suppression of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region of China, prompting Beijing to threaten retaliation.
David Stilwell, the deputy secretary for East Asia, told reporters that China's stance in the talks could not be described as upcoming and described the relationship as "tense".
He said recent Chinese actions on India, the South China Sea and Hong Kong have not been constructive and Washington is looking forward to China rethinking its plans for Hong Kong security legislation.
At the same time, Stilwell said China had again committed to complying with the trade agreement, adding that efforts to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons were another area of potential cooperation.
"The trade deal - the Chinese have made several commitments ... and they insist that they pull it off," said Stilwell. "This is a good endurance test to determine whether they will be cooperation partners."
"We'll see in the next week or two, or how long it will take (if) they begin to meet their commitments," he said.
China described the Hawaii talks as "constructive," but its State Department told Yang Pompeo that Washington must respect Beijing's positions on key issues and stop its interference in issues such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Xinjiang while it works to repair the relationship.
Hours after the meeting ended, China said its top parliamentary body would review the draft security law for Hong Kong during a session that started on Thursday.
Foreign ministers from the G7 countries, including Pompeo, previously issued a statement calling on China not to comply with the law, which critics call an attack on the territory's democratic freedoms.
(Reporting by Eric Beech, Andrea Shalal, David Brunnstrom and Arshad Mohammed; editing by Peter Cooney)
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