China and US hold 'frank' discussions on trade, sanctions and human rights, but stalemate remains

Tue 27 Jul 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

US China trade

The latest trade talks between the US and China have ended in stalemate, with the discussions being described by US officials as being “frank and open” – or in the words of their Chinese counterparts, “deadlocked”.  

The meetings, which ended on Monday, were held in the Chinese city of Tianjin and were aimed at easing the strained relations between the two global superpowers.  

Kicking off discussions, state department spokesman Ned Price said the US welcomed stiff competition with China but that it “does not seek conflict” with it. 

Trump tensions 

The talks come during a period of heightened tensions between the two countries. 

Under former President Trump, the US imposed a wave of tariffs and sanctions on the Asian superpower, which then retaliated with similar countermeasures. 

The US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED), which was created in 2009 to bolster trade ties between the two countries, was also suspended by the Trump administration.  

Biden criticism 

Under President Joe Biden, the US has increased its criticism of Beijing over alleged human rights abuses in regions such as Xinjiang and Hong Kong. 

China, however, has also had its say in an ensuing war of words. 

According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), China put forward “two lists” during the talks – the “List of US Wrongdoings that Must Stop” and the “List of Key Individual Cases that China Has Concerns With”. 

Chinese officials also accused the US of treating China as “an imagined enemy". 

US officials argued China must respect ‘rules-based international order’. 


Speaking to SCMP, Shi Yinhong, an adviser to China’s State Council and a professor of international relations at Renmin University, said it was “difficult” to see where progress could be made in the talks. 

“It is very difficult to reverse the US-China relationship in the foreseeable future, or to ease it significantly,” he said.  

“The Strategic and Economic Dialogue would be an important mechanism if the bilateral relations were good now, without strong voices opposing the other side from both of the countries.”  


However, some glimmer of hope has been raised for the future.  

Speaking to CNN, Neil Thomas, a China analyst at political risk advisory firm Eurasia Group, said: “Relations overall are going downhill…But the fact that both sides wanted to hold this meeting shows that that both Biden and general secretary Xi Jinping still want to put some kind of floor beneath deteriorating relations, because they both know this is the most important bilateral relationship in the world.”