May 20, 2019

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As China Trade Talks Stall, Xi Faces a Dilemma: Fold? Or Double Down?

As China Trade Talks Stall, Xi Faces a Dilemma: Fold? Or Double Down?
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For the party, stable economic growth is fundamental to political legitimacy.

“Everyone may have greater doubts and uncertainty about the future of the Chinese economy, Chinese-U.S. relations or the global economy,” Professor Tu said. “This uncertainty will certainly affect production, investment, and consumption.”

At their first summit meeting just two years ago, Mr. Xi told Mr. Trump that China and the United States had “a thousand reasons” to work well together. But the slow pace of negotiations could tarnish in Mr. Xi’s carefully drawn image at home as a master strategist.

More than two years into the Trump presidency, Chinese officials still appear to struggle to understand the president, his temperament and his negotiating style. American politicians and experts say that Chinese counterparts often fail to grasp how far and fast wariness of China has hardened into hostility.

“There are a lot of voices in Washington that are either sharply or harshly critical of China’s actions in trade, in their military expansionism, in their actions in the South China Sea — fill in the blank,” Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat senator from Delaware, said in an interview in Beijing late last month after meeting Chinese officials.

Mr. Xi’s top economic official, Mr. Liu, a vice premier who leads the Chinese negotiators, could also suffer a setback in his standing if the latest talks falter.

“If, say, Liu He comes back to Beijing empty-handed, and there’s more tirades from Trump on his Twitter account, I think things could get really wild,” Zhang Jian, an associate professor of government at Peking University, said in an interview. “It’s going to spill out of the economic waters.”

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