For the second time in less than 24 hours, China issued an irritated rebuke to Washington after the Trump administration escalated tensions ahead of trade talks between Vice Premier Liu He, Bob Lighthizer and Steve Mnuchin.
To the extent Liu was already skeptical about his latest trip to D.C., he’s probably feeling extremely apprehensive now, after the US instituted a travel ban on Chinese officials linked to human rights abuses in Xinjiang. The move, announced on Tuesday afternoon, made a bad situation worse for US markets, which buckled under the weight of multiple adverse trade headlines.
“With the excuse of human rights, the US side has gone one step further and announced visa restrictions on Chinese officials, after imposing sanctions on some Chinese organizations and companies yesterday”, the Chinese embassy said, in a series of tweets accusing the Trump administration of “seriously violating the basic norms governing international relations, interfering in China’s internal affairs and undermining China’s interests”.
The move to slap travel bans on Chinese officials comes hot on the heels of the Commerce department’s blacklisting of Hikvision and other Chinese tech and surveillance firms. That marks two serious escalations in two days.
Worse, these particular steps hit a number of nerves for Beijing. In addition to undermining China’s tech ambitions, the Trump administration has effectively sanctioned the country for human rights abuses – that would be a serious matter during “normal” times, but the accusations are aggravated by the situation in Hong Kong.
There really is no way to spin things if you’re China. Taken at face value, Trump is meddling in China’s internal affairs. That’s not acceptable if you’re Beijing. Seen for what they actually are, the travel ban and the new blacklist are simply Trump trying to secure leverage in the trade talks, which is arguably even more insulting considering how many times the US president has figuratively slapped Xi in the face over the past five or so months.
Whatever the case, the Chinese embassy on Tuesday “urged” the Trump administration “to correct its mistakes at once”.
Trump will do nothing of the sort, of course.
And so, markets are left to wonder how the trade talks can possibly proceed considering how contentious the environment has become over the past week. Remember, China has made a number of US farm purchases in an effort to demonstrate good faith, only to be bombarded with reports of capital flow restrictions, a new tech crackdown and now, travel bans.
“I can feel that Chinese society has low expectations for [a] real breakthrough in the new round of trade talks”, Global Times editor Hu Xijin (who often tweets on behalf of the Party) sighed on Tuesday.
“Most people think [the] trade war… will be a normal thing between China and the US”, he went on to remark, adding that “people widely think the Trump administration can’t honor its commitments”.