United States President Donald Trump said yesterday that he will bide his time and is in no hurry to enter a trade deal with China, pointedly refusing to cool the tensions between the feuding economic giants.
With Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe beside him, Mr Trump added that he was hopeful for an imminent breakthrough in ongoing trade talks with Japan, which he has repeatedly rapped for its substantial trade surplus of US$67.6 billion (S$93 billion) last year.
Mr Trump, whose recent delay of a hike in Japanese auto tariffs to 25 per cent on the grounds of national security will tide Mr Abe through a parliamentary election in July, signalled yesterday that he wanted a major announcement in August. He is on a four-day state visit to Japan.
Trade was the dominant issue in Mr Trump’s bilateral talks with Mr Abe and at yesterday’s joint news conference, where he said that Beijing had more to lose in the unfurling trade spat than Washington.
“I think they probably wish they made the deal that they had on the table before they tried to renegotiate it,” he said. “They would like to make a deal, we are not ready to make a deal. And we are taking in tens of billions of dollars of tariffs and that number could go up very, very substantially, very easily.”
However, Mr Trump said there was a very good chance of clin-ching a deal with China given that businesses are leaving the country “by the hundreds, by the thousands, and going into areas that are non-tariffed”.
In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang called for mutual respect at a regular news briefing in Beijing yesterday. He said: “China has always believed that the differences between any two countries should of course be resolved through friendly consultations and negotiations.”
He added that the Chinese position has been as consistent as the US’ has been erratic: “Sometimes, it is said that an agreement will be reached soon, and sometimes that it is difficult to reach an agreement.”
Mr Abe, for his part, called for continual dialogue so that the US and China can find a “constructive solution” to their dispute.
This month, the US raised tariffs on US$200 billion of Chinese imports to 25 per cent, while China retaliated with tariffs on US$60 billion worth of goods, with varying rates of up to 25 per cent.
Mr Trump has threatened fresh duties on another US$325 billion worth of Chinese goods.
Yesterday morning, Mr Trump and his wife Melania had an audience with Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako at the Imperial Palace as the first state guests of the Reiwa (beautiful harmony) imperial era that began this month.
Mr Trump and Mr Abe then met for bilateral talks before meeting family members of Japanese who were abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s.
Mr Trump said the US “will continue to support Japan’s efforts to bring these abductees home”, as it does Japan’s efforts to improve its defence capabilities with big-ticket purchases.
He praised Japan’s order of 105 brand new F-35 stealth aircraft – first spelt out in revised national defence programme guidelines approved last December, that will “give Japan the largest F-35 fleet of any US ally”.
Mr Trump, who also watched a sumo wrestling tournament with Mr Abe on Sunday, yesterday paid homage to Japan’s heritage, and said he felt “profoundly honoured” to be received by the new Emperor.
“Japan’s time-honoured customs and exquisite culture fill us with a deep sense of admiration,” he said.
Mr Trump will address US troops at a US Navy base in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, before he leaves Japan.