BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he opposed renegotiating the U.S.-China “Phase 1” trade deal after a Chinese state-run newspaper reported some government advisers in Beijing were urging fresh talks and possibly invalidating the agreement.
Trump, who himself has considered abandoning the pact signed in January, told a White House press briefing he wanted to see if Beijing lived up to the deal to massively increase purchases of U.S. goods.
“No, not at all. Not even a little bit,” Trump said when asked if he would entertain the idea of reworking Phase 1. “I’m not interested. We signed a deal. I had heard that too, they’d like to reopen the trade talk, to make it a better deal for them.”
The Global Times tabloid reported on Monday that unidentified advisers close to the talks have suggested that Chinese officials revive the possibility of invalidating the trade pact and negotiate a new one to tilt the scales more to the Chinese side.
The Global Times is published by the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party. While not an official party mouthpiece, the Global Times’ views are believed at times to reflect those of its leaders.
Hours after the report was published, Chinese importers on Monday bought at least four cargoes, or about 240,000 tonnes, of U.S. soybeans on Monday for shipment beginning in July, and additional sales are possible, two traders familiar with the deals said on Monday.
The purchases were the latest in a recent string by China, which U.S. officials say has also begun implementing other parts of the trade deal regarding intellectual property protections.
The U.S. Trade Representative’s office did not respond to repeated queries on the Global Times article.
Under the Phase 1 deal signed in January, Beijing pledged to buy at least $200 billion in additional U.S. goods and services over two years while Washington agreed to roll back tariffs in stages on Chinese goods.
Trump, who has blamed China’s early handling of the new coronavirus outbreak in its central city of Wuhan for thousands of U.S. deaths and millions of job losses, said last week he was “very torn” about whether to end the Phase 1 trade deal. Those comments came just hours after top trade officials from both countries pledged to press ahead with implementing the agreement.
Rising U.S.-China tensions over the coronavirus outbreak have cast the trade deal and proposed talks on a Phase 2 deal into doubt.
The Trump administration asserted there was evidence the new coronavirus came from a Wuhan laboratory, an allegation that China has rejected. On Monday, a new source of tension opened up, with reports that the administration is planning to issue a warning that computer hackers tied to the Chinese government are attempting to steal information from U.S. researchers.
U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Global Times said malicious attacks by the United States have ignited a “tsunami of anger” among Chinese trade insiders after China made compromises in the Phase 1 pact.
“It’s in fact in China’s interests to terminate the current Phase 1 deal,” a trade adviser to the Chinese government told the Global Times, citing the weakening U.S. economy and upcoming U.S. presidential elections. “The U.S. now cannot afford to restart the trade war with China if everything goes back to the starting point.”
Clete Willems, a former White House trade adviser who took an active role in the U.S.-China negotiations, said China had followed through on the majority of the structural provisions in the Phase 1 deal, including new rules to protect intellectual property.
“I don’t think we’re at the point where we should give up on the deal. It has yielded positive results thus far,” said Willems, who is now with the Akin Gump law firm in Washington.
Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom, writing by David Lawder, Editing by William Maclean and Richard Chang