China Refuses To Confirm Trade Deal As Local Media Stays Dead Silent

Markets are closed in Beijing, the workday is over, and there are zero official reports in the local media or comments by state officials that a trade deal ever took place. That may be because, as we explained on Thursday night, the language of the "deal" will never be made public and there would be no signing event between President Trump and President Xi.

One may even ask if there is even a "deal"?

As the WSJ writes this morning, China indicated that a near-term trade agreement with the U.S. has yet to be completed despite President Trump’s signoff, highlighting the unpredictability of a negotiation process that has rattled global markets and businesses.

Trump on Thursday approved a so-called phase-one trade pact that will scale back existing tariffs on Chinese imports and eliminate new levies scheduled to take effect on Sunday, in exchange for a written pledge from Beijing to buy tens of billions of dollars worth of U.S. farm products, among other concessions.

While Mr. Trump was “upbeat and enthusiastic about this breakthrough,” in the words of Michael Pillsbury, an adviser to the president during the trade talks, the mood in Beijing has been decidedly more sober.

As noted above, none of China’s state-owned media outlets or economic agencies involved in the trade negotiations made any public statement on Friday about the deal which according to Trump was finalized. The circumstances are chillingly similar to what happened in May when a deal was "this close" only to collapse in the final moment. The WSJ reminds us what happened then:

Ensuring what senior leaders have described as a “balanced” agreement has been a priority for Chinese negotiators throughout the process. Beijing walked away from a nearly completed deal in early May because the leadership felt that the text of the agreement was too lopsided in Washington’s favor. That led the Trump administration to ramp up its trade war with China, putting a drag on the world economy.

Is it deja vu all over again? A Chinese official told Reuters on Friday that the trade deal is more of a "final offer" that has been approved by the Trump  administration but not yet affirmed by Beijing. Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying wouldn't even comment when asked by reporters about whether an agreement has been reached. 

"China is committed to constructive dialogue to resolve and manage our differences, and believe ... the deal must be mutually beneficial," she said.

Instead, Hua Chunying only referred only to how news of the agreement helped fuel a surge in U.S. and European stocks (it also lifted Chinese shares). More to the point, Hua didn’t confirm the existence of a deal.

Confirming that the Chinese media may have been directed not to comment on the alleged deal, Global Times editor, Hu Xijin, tweeted: "Chinese authorities and official media so far haven't given any information on China and the US are close to a deal. As the US side released optimistic information through various channels, the Chinse side has basically kept silent."

Senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi spoke Friday at an annual symposium in Beijing on international affairs and said the US has severely damaged the hard-won mutual trust between both countries: "Such behavior is almost paranoid, and is indeed rare in international exchanges, seriously damaging the hard-won foundation of mutual trust between China and the United States, and seriously weakening the United States' international credibility."

Needless to say, very strange commentary for a side that just reached a historic trade accord.

Though Beijing sees the benefit in wrapping up a deal as quickly as possible this time around, it still wants to ensure that China doesn’t appear to have been pressured into making all the concessions, according to the WSJ. The reason: the perception of a one-sided agreement could subject Xi to criticism from within the ruling Communist Party and other parts of the society, Chinese officials fear.

“The U.S. side talks too much, and that’s the American style,” said Mei Xinyu, a trade analyst at a think tank affiliated with China’s Commerce Ministry. "If there is an agreement, both sides will have to make an official announcement. Without that, anything is possible."

Fox Business correspondent Edwards Lawrence noted Thursday night that the Chinese have requested that the language of the trade deal will never be made public. In other words, there is (supposedly) a "deal," written on paper somewhere, specifying certain terms, and signed by certain US and Chinese presidents. And nobody will ever see what that deal actually states.

Lawrence also said China "verbally agreed to buy $50b in agriculture, but that will not be in writing." 

And for a reality check, Reuters commodity analyst Karen Braun had serious doubts that China would be buying $50 billion worth of US agriculture products because the numbers just don't add up. 

Here's more from Braun: "And if you consider Ag & Related Products (includes fish & forestry products) - max was $29 billion in 2013. So this is the absolute max previous ceiling considering all exports that could be considered ag. I'm not seeing how $50B is possible in 2020."

Other commodity analysts agreed with Braun, indicating that, "There's just no logistical way that they can double imports in a year," or probably ever, said INTL FCStone Asia commodity analyst Darin Friedrichs.

CNBC's Eunice Yoon added the $50 billion in agriculture purchases was a "hard target" for the Chinese. Yoon said if there were a deal, then it would surely draw complaints by Europe and South American countries at the WTO.

Putting this all together, President Trump's self-proclaimed phase one trade deal is likely a proposal at the moment for the Chinese. And even if the Chinese agree to it, it may never become public. 

How to make sense of all of this? Recall that earlier this week, Peter Navarro was complaining that China had taken control over the narrative. So by laying out the terms of the "concluded" deal, it is possible the Trump administration is seeking to force the Chinese into an agreement so Trump can get a political win, because that's really what a phase one deal is about. 

Should the Chinese reject the terms of the proposal, such as the massive $50 billion in agriculture purchases, Trump can now effectively scapegoat China for blowing up the trade deal, just as he did back in May, which brings us back to the Trade war cycle...