May 31, 2020

China Condemns U.S. Over Hong Kong. That Won’t Stop Trade Talks.

Chinese negotiators “feel that they’re getting enough out of the trade talks not to let other issues, like North Korea and other questions, get in the way,” said James Green, who was the top trade official at the United States Embassy in Beijing until last year and is now a senior associate at McLarty Associates, a Washington consulting firm.

China has let similar affronts pass without meaningful retaliation in recent months as it tries to seek a deal. For example, Chinese officials continued to negotiate after the Canadian authorities at the behest of Washington last year arrested a top executive of Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant. Negotiations continued also after the United States put more than two dozen Chinese companies and organizations on a blacklist over human rights concerns.

“Chinese retaliation comes in two basic flavors: symbolic and punitive,” said Daniel R. Russel, a former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs in the Obama administration. “They’ve got an entire repertoire of levers to work with,” he added, reciting a list that included backing away from purchases or investment, making it harder for Americans to obtain business licenses and toughening the visa process.

Evan S. Medeiros, a Georgetown University professor who was the senior Asia director on the National Security Council during the Obama administration, said that while China needed to express indignation with the American bills, the legislation also had an upside. It helps the Chinese strategy to blame the United States for the ongoing turmoil in Hong Kong. Legislation that penalizes both China and Hong Kong, Mr. Medeiros wrote in a text message, “is a high-profile symbol to many Chinese of so-called U.S. interference.”

Beijing could respond slowly, as its problems in Hong Kong would be difficult to solve quickly in any case.

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