(Photo: Reuters)
(Photo: Reuters)

China’s jazz-era glamour sets mood for trade talks

  • US delegates including treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and trade representative Robert Lighthizer are set to attend a dinner at the Fairmont Peace Hotel on Tuesday
  • Since the initial tariffs in June last year, both Washington and Beijing have further raised and expanded the duties

Chinese trade negotiators are set to host their US counterparts at a landmark of jazz-era Shanghai on the city’s riverside Bund, re-opening trade talks with a marked change of atmosphere after an almost three-month hiatus.

US delegates including treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and trade representative Robert Lighthizer are set to attend a dinner at the Fairmont Peace Hotel on Tuesday evening, according to people familiar with the matter. The US delegation arrived at a separate hotel on the Bund waterfront shortly after 1.30pm local time.

The 1920s art-deco structure is among the most celebrated buildings on the Shanghai riverside, and has seen guests including Charlie Chaplin and Noel Coward when it was known as the Cathay Hotel. It played a brief role as municipal offices after the founding of the People’s Republic. Expectations for a breakthrough in the trade talks remain low. The two sides are further apart than they were three months ago, when negotiations broke down and each side blamed the other for derailing attempts to reach a deal. China is pushing for compromise in the talks, with state media underlining this week that the US should meet it “halfway."

Further Apart

Since the initial tariffs in June last year, both Washington and Beijing have further raised and expanded the duties. The conflict between the world’s two largest economies has also spread, dragging in companies such as Huawei Technologies Co. and FedEx Corp., farmers in the Midwest, factory workers across Asia, and the World Trade Organization.

The official trade talks will take place at the Xijiao State Guest Hotel on Wednesday, the people said. The “guest house" is a leafy compound of luxury reception buildings and accommodation in the west of the city.

A spokesman for the USTR couldn’t immediately confirm the plans. The commerce ministry didn’t immediately respond to request for comment on the arrangements. A spokesperson for the Fairmont Peace Hotel declined to comment on the arrangements.

Complicated History

Shanghai is mainland China’s financial capital and its busiest port. The Peace Hotel’s setting in the former International Settlement, which the US helped manage during a period of foreign interference that the Communist Party has vowed never to repeat, is also freighted with the complicated history of America’s relationship with China.

On the east passage from the lobby, the walls show off the hotel’s glamorous past. There’s Chaplin posing on the famous staircase in 1936, and scenes from the Chinese movie blockbuster Shanghai Triad, set in the 1930s. US President Bill Clinton appears with Hillary Clinton on the roof in 1998, posing with Shanghai’s then-mayor.

The hotel plays up its origins in Shanghai’s pre-WWII jazz age. The only clear nod to China’s present-day politics are at least two standing signs declaring “Socialism’s Core Values"—a fifteen-strong list including patriotism, honesty and harmony. Only the heading is rendered in English, though, as “China’s Core Values."

As the US delegates arrived, China again alleged American involvement in Hong Kong’s historic unrest, saying recent violence at protests was “a creation of the US"

“Those who play with fire will inevitably burn themselves," Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing on Monday. “China urges the US to stop as soon as possible."

On Tuesday, an editorial in the state-owned China Daily argued that the city was an “auspicious" venue to re-start the talks, and referenced the visit by former US President Richard Nixon there in 1972 in the course of the diplomatic thaw between the communist and capitalist states.

Among other things, the document established a working compromise on the issue of Taiwan, with the US saying it “does not challenge" the belief that both sides are part of “one China."

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump took to Twitter Tuesday to warn China not to wait to do a trade deal with the US, just as negotiations began in Shanghai to resurrect stalled talks with Chinese officials.

“My team is negotiating with them now, but they always change the deal in the end to their benefit," Trump tweeted.

“China is doing very badly, worst year in 27 - was supposed to start buying our agricultural product now - no signs that they are doing so. That is the problem with China, they just don’t come through."

The US economy “has become much larger than the Chinese Economy is last 3 years," Trump boasted.

The US president suggested that China “should probably wait out our Election to see if we get one of the Democrat stiffs like Sleepy Joe. Then they could make a GREAT deal, like in past 30 years, and continue ... to ripoff the USA, even bigger and better than ever before." “The problem with them waiting, however, is that if & when I win, the deal that they get will be much tougher than what we are negotiating now... or no deal at all. We have all the cards, our past leaders never got it!" he added.

Reuters contributed to this story.

Close