China and US can still cooperate as competitors, Beijing’s former top trade negotiator says

Amanda Lee

Despite growing tensions, China and the United States must find a way to cooperate because their economies are too intertwined to decouple, according to a former top Chinese trade negotiator.

“At a time when the [coronavirus] pandemic is still threatening global cooperation, I think it’s even more important to uphold and carry forward a spirit of cooperation,” Long Yongtu, head of the Chinese team that negotiated the country’s 2001 entry into the World Trade Organisation, told a seminar in the eastern province of Jiangsu on Friday.

“Although the relationship between China and the US has been positioned as competitive, competitors don’t have to confront or clash with each other. Just like in a market economy, although many companies are competitors, competition doesn’t lead to exclusion or prevent finding a common interest.

“Since China and the US are already intertwined, [they] can find a place to cooperate.”

A transcript of Long’s comments were published Saturday by Chinese media and technology company iyiou, an organiser of the seminar.

“The US said it would like to continue to have an open and constructive relationship with China. So as long as China and the US are willing to seek common ground while reserving differences, they can form a cooperative relationship after the pandemic,” Long said, referring to US President Donald Trump’s sweep of announcements aimed at China over a range of issues including Beijing’s proposed national security law for Hong Kong.

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Long’s comments echoed those by Zhu Guangyao, a cabinet adviser and former vice finance minister, who said last week that the two countries should “waste no time” in improving relations to help better coordinate a response to the pandemic.

“The close connection between the Chinese and US economies is the result of four decades of hard work on both sides, and that is also the reflection of the wishes of consumers in China and the United States,” Zhu said.

“Such interdependence will not disappear simply because some people clamour for ‘decoupling’.”

China’s relations with the US were “far from satisfactory”, with communications at a “standstill”, he warned.

“We hope that through communication we can enhance our cooperation and mutual trust,” he said.

Relations between China and the US deteriorated rapidly as the coronavirus public health crisis spread around the globe, overwhelming the goodwill from the phase one trade deal signed in January.

Washington has criticised China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, while Beijing has denied accusations that it covered up the disease, claiming also that the US spread misinformation about the origins of the pandemic.

The coronavirus, which causes the disease Covid-19, has infected more than 7.7 million people and killed more than 430,000 worldwide.

Trump last month said that “the United States wants an open and constructive relationship with China but achieving that relationship requires us to vigorously defend our national interests. The Chinese government has continually violated its promises to the US and many other nations.”

China’s plans for the new Hong Kong national security law, which critics say will erode the city’s autonomy from the mainland, prompted Trump to order US officials to begin the process of withdrawing Hong Kong’s special treatment under US law.

The escalating tensions have spilled over to the financial system. Trump ordered US regulators to explore ways to force Chinese companies to delist their shares from US exchanges if they do not comply with US accounting disclosure rules.

As part of that review, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Thursday that he was working on various capital market responses to China’s national security law for Hong Kong, including some measures that could restrict capital flows through the city.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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