A phone call on Thursday morning Beijing time between Chinese Vice Premier Liu He and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has led to the resumption of bilateral talks, which will restart in early October in Washington DC.

Liu, a member of the Communist Party’s Politburo and Xi Jinping’s trusted lieutenant overseeing policies on economy and trade, was invited after a call by Lighthizer and Mnuchin. He told his US counterparts that Beijing was willing to restart face-to-face dialogue but was also ready to adopt more countervailing measures against more punitive tariffs, according to reports in Chinese papers this morning.

Both sides have agreed to maintain close contacts before the 13th round of the marathon China-US high-level economic and trade talks, scheduled to start on an unspecified date in early October in the US capital.

Xinhua also reported that working groups of both sides would conduct preparatory meetings “in earnest” as soon as in a week, “to create favorable conditions to achieve substantial progress” for the high-stakes talks in DC.

Liu’s delegation will again include Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan, People’s Bank of China Governor Yi Gang and senior officials with the National Development and Reform Commission, nicknamed China’s “mini-state council”.

Washington’s increased tariffs on more than half-a-trillion dollars worth of Chinese exports including garments, footwear, cameras and electric components, etc, and Beijing’s retaliation on US$75 billion worth of US goods have raised fears of a breakdown in the drawn-out trade disputes. But news about the new round of talks, originally meant to take place this month, has come as a relief.

A motorcade carrying members of the US delegation is seen in Shanghai at the end of July.
Liu He, Robert Lighthizer and Steven Mnuchin are seen on a balcony of Shanghai’s Peace Hotel after a banquet inside the city’s iconic landmark on July 30. Photos: Weibo

In Beijing, however, party mouthpiece the People’s Daily also gave a caveat, saying the two sides will meet soon despite the fact a deal looks unlikely.

The broadsheet continued to blame Trump’s “flip-flopping” and a “bullying, arbitrary mentality” for stopping a deal being reached. It said the recent escalation of trade tension had violated the consensus reached by Xi and Trump in Argentina and Osaka, and that some US politicians lacked the consciousness to abide by consensus.

Beijing said that, in a show of goodwill to ease concerns of the US, Chinese importers had placed several sizeable orders for soybeans, cotton, sorghums and other agricultural goods on August 1, the day when Washington announced hiked tariffs. Chinese lawmakers had also changed legislation in just a few months and listed all fentanyl-related substances as ‘narcotics’ starting from May 1.

The two sides last met in Shanghai at the end of July without reaching any deal.

Shanghai’s Yangshan container port. News of resumed talks has come as a relief, but Beijing mouthpieces have played down expectations. Photo: Xinhua

Trump tweeted on Tuesday that a deal would “get much tougher and China’s supply chain will crumble and businesses, jobs and money will be gone” if he wins a second term.

But the US economy has already shown signs of fatigue, as manufacturing data contracted to 49.1 in August amid the trade war, its lowest level since Trump took office.