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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas