Hu Chunhua rumored to replace Liu He to restart trade talks with U.S. China denies

At a time when the U.S. and China are expected to restart trade talks. The U.S. media reports that Beijing is considering replacing its trade representative with Vice Premier Hu Chunhua, who has extensive diplomatic experience, due to rumors of a “line difference” between Liu He and Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping. The concern is whether Hu Chunhua has the strength to mediate with the strong-armed U.S. Trade Representative David Deitch.

Xi was accompanied by Hu Chunhua on a research trip to Nanyang, Henan Province, on Wednesday (12). There are indications that the Central Politburo member could be given a heavy responsibility.

In recent years, China’s trade dialogue with the U.S. has been led by Vice Premier Liu He. The Wall Street Journal cited sources familiar with the matter. Beijing is considering a change, with Hu Chunhua, 58, replacing Liu He, who has headed the economy for years, as special envoy to the U.S.-China trade talks.

Liu He and Xi Jinping have a close relationship, but recently it has been widely rumored that the two have had a divergence in line. A NetEase public website recently posted an old article by Liu He from 13 years ago calling for a rethink of the Cultural Revolution, which was seen as a satire of Xi Jinping.

Independent scholar Wu Zorai believes that Liu He and Xi Jinping have important differences that are not just empty rumors.

Wu Zorai: The Communist Party has already characterized the Cultural Revolution, that it was a turmoil started by Mao Zedong, but now Xi Jinping has turned it into an experiment and even turned it into a prevention of capitalist resurgence. Someone like Liu He, who lived through the Cultural Revolution and whose father was persecuted and killed during the Cultural Revolution. This bottom line is very difficult for him to cross. So his disagreement with Xi Jinping on this issue is certainly an issue that cannot be avoided.

Wu came to say that even Xi Jinping had no choice but to reuse Hu Chunhua, who is a strong member of the Communist Party, in the U.S.-China economic and trade negotiations.

Wu Zuo Lai: There are not many people in the system who can cooperate with Xi Jinping and who Xi Jinping can trust, because negotiations with the U.S. are not possible with anyone, they must also meet certain status and level. Now change Hu Chunhua is a temporary decision, the act of necessity. At the very least, Hu Chunhua is not openly opposed to the Cultural Revolution.

In Beijing, Chinese Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng said at a regular press conference on Thursday (13) that “the report in the Wall Street Journal is not true”, but there are still divergent views on whether Liu He will be replaced.

The deputy secretary-general of Taiwan’s Chinese Economic and Financial Association, Zeng Zhichao, believes that Liu He has been credited with achieving certain results in past U.S.-China trade talks.

The most important thing is that he has a degree from Harvard University. Unlike some mainland leaders in the past, he is more familiar with the United States than other people. His performance in this regard is noteworthy. Liu He will reach the age of 70 next year, which means he will enter retirement age, so it is not impossible that he will be replaced.

He said it remains to be seen whether Hu Chunhua, who lacks experience in foreign affairs, will be a competent negotiator for the Chinese side.

What he deals with is mainly in agriculture, poverty alleviation, disaster relief, etc. Although trade is also involved, there is not much actual contact, and he does not have many American contacts, so we are not sure how he will perform, Zeng said.

There are concerns about whether the U.S. will continue to impose punishingly large tariffs on Beijing. U.S. Trade Representative Dyche said Wednesday that the U.S. side will ensure that Beijing complies with the norms of international rules to create a level playing field. According to Zeng Zhichao, whether the U.S. side will give in on tariffs depends on whether the Chinese side can show sincerity and keep its past promises.

Zeng Zhichao said: Dai Qi’s long-term performance in the Trade Representative Office is very good. As for Hu Chunhua, he even has very little international experience. He may take a “time for space” approach, because the atmosphere between the U.S. and China is so unpleasant that it is unlikely to produce consensus if further negotiations are conducted on many details.

Hu Chunhua has long been considered a candidate for the Standing Committee of the Communist Party’s Politburo, and is seen as the favorite to be the next premier of the State Council. According to political scientist Wu Jolai, since Xi Jinping came to power, the State Council premiership is almost indistinguishable from that of the central office director, and if Hu Chunhua were to take the post, he would probably be even more vulnerable than Li Keqiang.