WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Yang Jiechi in Honolulu June 17 to discuss mounting tensions between the United States and China. The sessions produced no new agreements, resolutions or statements pertaining to the strained relationship, but Pompeo said Yang did recommit China to meeting its obligations under the phase one trade agreement, including the purchase of $36.5 billion worth of US food and agricultural products in 2020.
This recommitment itself did not break new ground, as David Stillwell, assistant secretary for East Asia and Pacific affairs, told the press during a briefing on the Hawaii meeting.
“The Chinese have recommitted to that numerous times, not just in the recent past, but since the last year when it was signed, and they insist that they will follow through,” Stillwell said. “This is a good acid test to see if they will be cooperative partners; if they will, again, use words and deeds to build this trust in the trade realm, which I think is probably the most basic aspect of this relationship, because, as you know, trade, when done properly, benefits both sides equally.”
A statement issued by Zhao Lijian of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the meeting between Pompeo and Yang made no mention of what the two diplomats discussed relating to the phase one agreement. Instead, the statement lambasted the United States for interfering in China’s domestic affairs relating to Taiwan and Hong Kong and the treatment of the Uighur Moslem minority in Xinjiang province in northwest China.
To meet its commitments under the phase one agreement, China will have to greatly accelerate its purchases of US farm products. The US Department of Agriculture indicated China purchased only $4.65 billion worth of US farm products in the first four months of 2020.
China in the past several weeks has stepped up its purchases of US soybeans. The USDA said exports and undelivered sales of US soybeans to China for 2019-20 totaled 12.8 million tonnes through June 11. Additionally, China has purchased 3 million tonnes of soybeans for delivery in 2020-21, which begins Sept. 1.
China also recently purchased 63,000 tonnes of US hard red winter wheat.
Separately, additional mixed messaging about the US-China relationship emerged from the administration. US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on June 17, while testifying before the House Committee on Ways and Means, said a full decoupling of the Chinese and US economies was not “a reasonable policy option.”
President Donald Trump the next day responded in a tweet, “It was not Ambassador Lighthizer’s fault (yesterday in Committee) in that perhaps I didn’t make myself clear, but the US certainly does maintain a policy option, under various conditions, of a complete decoupling from China. Thank you!"