‘Biden’s ideas’ signal beginning of breakthrough in US-China trade talks

The official Chinese Daily said visiting US vice-president Joe Biden had made ‘substantive and important proposals’. But getting down to the ‘nitty gritty’ is still not easy

The US vice-president, Joe Biden, arrived in Beijing on Wednesday hoping to make some progress on trade after years of bitter disputes between the world’s two largest economies, and it seemed he had accomplished that on the first day of talks.

But thorny issues such as North Korea and the China-dominated United Nations security council were still holding up progress. Chinese state media hailed Biden’s “substantive and important proposals”, but vowed to hold off making substantive agreements until there is movement on the “nitty gritty” issues.

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The talks, which are expected to last until Friday, are aimed at building “constructive momentum” toward negotiations between China and the US on trade that might end the years of hostilities between the world’s two largest economies.

“The meeting offered the two sides a comprehensive and constructive opportunity to work together for the greater good of world peace and stability,” the official China Daily said in an editorial after the meeting.

“Vice-President Biden’s talks with Chinese leaders were positive, substantive and important proposals.”

The talks at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations in Beijing came as a truce between Washington and Beijing entered its fourth month with little sign that they will advance toward a settlement.

The US and China have also been at odds over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs, though Beijing has been reluctant to push Pyongyang too hard, fearing a collapse of the regime in Pyongyang that could send millions of refugees across its border.

Biden and Xi sat side by side at the opening ceremony, sharing a joint first-down laugh during the players’ coin toss, signaling an initial jovial tone. China is as great a market for US goods as any, and with its economy growing and slowly improving, it has become a potentially bigger market for US companies.

But a steady stream of American agricultural products, including soybeans, corn and pork, and more recently, some Chinese pharmaceutical and high-tech products have been blocked from export markets.

The US and China have also clashed over the merits of US import duties on $50bn of Chinese goods due to take effect on 1 July, the US’s Section 301 investigation into Chinese theft of US technology, and China’s alleged cyber attacks against US companies.

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China refused to hand over to US authorities the People’s Liberation Army hacker who was indicted on April 27 and was suspected of targeting hundreds of major US companies.

Human rights have also become a sticking point.

Human Rights Watch said in a report issued Thursday that it and other international rights groups had requested a meeting with Biden and declined the opportunity, with China citing plans to host scores of human rights advocates and supporters of Liu Xiaobo, the jailed Nobel Peace laureate who died of cancer last week after being placed under virtual house arrest since his 2009 award.

“The idea that human rights advocates would not meet with him [Biden] because he is the US vice-president is not just unfair, it is an affront to all who call for human rights to be respected and promoted,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

“The Obama administration has done more than any to promote human rights in China,” she said. “It cannot shirk its responsibility now to make sure the rest of the US government stands by those freedoms, so it should immediately arrange Biden’s meeting with a human rights group or organization.”

Dan Blumenthal, a China expert at the American Enterprise Institute thinktank, praised Biden for his visit to Beijing.

“He is the only high-level senior US official to make such a trip to China since October,” he said. “It should be welcomed.”

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