Honeymoon over in US trade talks with China

Fourteen months ago, the US Secretary of Commerce, Ron Brown, bounded on to the stage in Peking waving a list of nearly $6bn (pounds 4bn) of new deals for American companies, trumpeting a new era of "commercial diplomacy" and patting himself on the back for China's decision to resume the bilateral human rights dialogue.

That was then. Yesterday it was a more sober Mr Brown who admitted that Sino-US official contacts "cannot be expected to produce instant results". There were no photo-opportunity contract signings, perhaps because it has emerged this week that more than $5bn of last year's "deals" have yet to be consummated. There was no indication that China had offered Mr Brown any firm commitments to open its markets, or to adhere to this year's anti-piracy pact. There was no sign of the US trade deficit with China levelling off. Nor has the supposed human rights dialogue produced any tangible results over the past year.

Such are the realities for a US official on his or her second visit to China. But Mr Brown is the highest-level American official to come to Peking since June, when the Taiwanese President, Lee Teng-hui, visited the US, scuppering Sino-US relations. So the Secretary of Commerce was anxious yesterday to set a constructive tone for next Tuesday's meeting in New York between President Bill Clinton and his Chinese counterpart, Jiang Zemin. "The centrality of this relationship and our absolute commitment to making it work is often easy to lose amid the stories about week-to- week problems," Mr Brown told the American Chamber of Commerce in Peking.

In his meeting with President Jiang yesterday, Mr Brown delivered a message which, he said, "clearly indicates President Clinton's view of the importance of the relationship". Talking to Associated Press after the meeting, Mr Brown was upbeat: "I came at a time when if there was continued extension of tension in our relationship the Chinese would have had the opportunity to communicate it to me, and they didn't."

Despite Mr Brown's optimism, most of the traditional points of friction will still be on the table next week when the two presidents meet. Lee Sands, the assistant trade representative, warned earlier this month that the US expected its trade deficit with China to reach $38bn this year, and as much as $50bn next year. Mr Brown refused to make his own forecast, but admitted: "The trade deficit is too high."

Mr Brown said he was lobbying hard during this visit for up to $20bn of contracts for which American firms were bidding against international competition. But the update on last year's deals was less than overwhelming. "We too are frustrated by the lack of progress.... Not a single major private power project has come to fruition in China. Not one."

Apart from obstructive Chinese bureaucracy, the main stumbling block has been financing and the issue of whether Peking will guarantee project debt raised by the provinces. Mr Brown said he had been assured by Chinese officials that the US projects "are moving through the process".

Peking, for its part, accuses the US of blocking its application to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Entry to the WTO has become the most powerful tool for the US to force open China's market, and yesterday Mr Brown repeated that China's entry must be "on commercial terms".

In a positive sign for Peking he added: "It is hard to conceive of a WTO in 1996 that does not include China."

Suggested Topics
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate Pricing Analyst - 6 months / 1 year analytical experience

£20000 - £25000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Year 2 Teachers needed for day to day supply

£110 - £130 per day + Competitve rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Yea...

Year 4 Teachers needed for day to day supply across the region

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Ye...

Nursery Teachers needed for supply roles

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Nu...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits