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US-China pact signing to ease tension but leave much undone

WASHINGTON (AP) — After 18 months of economic combat, the United States and China are set to take a step toward peace today. At least for now.

President Donald Trump and China’s chief negotiator, Liu He, are scheduled to sign a modest trade agreement in which the administration will ease some sanctions on China and Beijing will step up its purchases of U.S. farm products and other goods. Above all, the deal will defuse a conflict that has slowed global growth, hurt American manufacturers and weighed on the Chinese economy.

But the so-called Phase 1 pact does little to force China to make the major economic reforms — such as reducing unfair subsidies for its own companies –that the Trump administration sought when it started the trade war by imposing tariffs on Chinese imports in July 2018. The U.S. has yet to reveal details of the agreement, though U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has said they would be made public today.

Most analysts say any meaningful resolution of the key U.S. allegation — that Beijing uses predatory tactics in its drive to supplant America’s technological supremacy — could require years of contentious talks. And skeptics say a satisfactory resolution may be next to impossible given China’s ambitions to become the global leader in such advanced technologies as driverless cars and artificial intelligence.

“The signing of the Phase 1 deal would represent a welcome, even if modest, de-escalation of trade hostilities between China and the U.S.,” said Eswar Prasad, a Cornell University economist and and former head of the International Monetary Fund’s China division. “But it hardly addresses in any substantive way the fundamental sources of trade and economic tensions between the two sides, which will continue to fester.”

In a letter to Trump on Monday, the top Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, complained that the Phase 1 deal appeared to make “very little progress in reforming China’s rapacious trade behaviors and seems like it could send a signal to Chinese negotiators that the U.S. can be steamrolled.”

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