Some days ago, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said :

"The United States seeks constructive relations with China, but we will not shrink from China’s challenges to the rules-based order and where China subverts the sovereignty of neighboring countries and disadvantages the U.S. and our friends,"

Now, China has signed a US$250bn trade deal with USA.

My questions:

  1. What was Chinese reaction to T-Rex's comment on China (both have options to fight verbally and then sign a deal. Apparently, China didn't pass any counter-comment)?
  2. If either China or the USA feels " ... that doesn't matter ... we need to do business ...", then why would Rex-T need to say that in the 1st place?
  • 1
    Not signing a 250 billion dollar deal just because of some remarks of the US Secretary of State would be plain stupid, wouldn't it?
    – Thern
    Nov 10, 2017 at 10:41
  • @Nebr, yes. Then, what was China's reaction to that? They both have options to fight verbally and then sign a deal. But, apparently, China didn't comment on T-Rex's comment.
    – user17569
    Nov 10, 2017 at 10:47
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    It would be very untypical for China to respond to such comments. I am not an expert concerning the Chinese culture (I would expect that they see such behavior - and the more rude remarks of Donald Trump - as a sort of "losing face", but I am not sure about that), but they did not respond to such verbal attacks in the past, so it seems that this behavior is common for them.
    – Thern
    Nov 10, 2017 at 13:03
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    And the remarks of policitians tend to be aimed at voters, so it is safe to assume that Rex Tillerson at least partly addressed his speech to those voters which view China with uneasiness or even contempt, in order to assure them that the USA will not be weak.
    – Thern
    Nov 10, 2017 at 13:05
  • They didn't sign anything binding yet. For now those deals are not worth the piece of paper they're signed on, as no penalties are set out for breaking those deals. They could've easily signed a deal for 100 trillion dollars if it was believable enough. Nov 10, 2017 at 15:10

3 Answers 3


The USA and other Western countries have been conducting a balancing act in relation to China for at least 30 years:

  • China has a poor record on human rights, a tendency to act aggressively towards its neighbours, and an unresolved conflict with Taiwan. Western governments feel obliged to express their disapproval of these factors.

  • China is undergoing rapid economic development, and becoming one of the largest and richest markets in the world. Western businesses cannot afford to ignore economic opportunity in China; and it can be argued that prosperity and economic liberalisation will, in the long run, have a beneficial effect on human rights there. So, Western governments are unwilling to cut off economic cooperation with China.

This article provides some of the background of US-China relations in a human rights context, from 1989-98. Impact of Western criticism on China's human rights record has been minor at best, and China feels little need to respond to such criticism.

To sum up, the government of China has long been accustomed to American disapproval of its foreign policy and record on human rights; and both parties are willing to conduct business in spite of their political differences.

  • My questions are not regarding the West. My questions are regarding China. I.e. why has "China" signed that deal?
    – user17569
    Nov 10, 2017 at 11:24
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    @anonymous: Putting it more bluntly: The Chinese government does not care if the USA goes through the motions of criticising its policies. It does not even care enough to issue a prominent official response to the criticism. It believes the trade deal will be beneficial to China, and so is willing to sign it. Nov 10, 2017 at 11:31
  • It is relevant that part of that number seems to include memorandums of understanding (which are not binding)(money.cnn.com/2017/11/09/investing/china-trump-business-deals/…). Also there are some reports about another part of the deals having been agreed way before and the signing delayed to provide something for the photo-op.
    – SJuan76
    Nov 10, 2017 at 11:32
  • @SJuan76, You pose an interesting point. It seems to me that the delay for photo op will become obsolete very soon because its something that is now widely known whereas in the past it could be hidden. As a result, it is becoming increasingly annoying. Nov 10, 2017 at 15:31

Well, mostly because it's in their interest to do so, like with just about any deal that nations sign..

Let's be clear, the numbers on this "trade deal" are mostly imaginary. A lot of the parts were already in the works, so they were going to get done anyway, a lot of others are "memorandums of understanding" with no binding authority of any kind - basically, empty promises that are easily disregarded.

If I sign a series of deals that result in $125 B dollars of import business and $125 B of export business, I've just signed a $250 B dollar deal with zero net effect on any existing trade deficit, so just putting a dollar number onto a trade deal really doesn't say anything about what, if any, impact it might have on trade balances between nations.

So.... the USA making noise about reducing the trade deficit is really something independent of this package of deals.

NPR - On Point - Trade With China In The Era Of "America First"

Why would anyone say anything at all if it was all noise and no substance? Well, if noise is all you have, you make it and hope people think there's substance. While that might seem especially pointed at this president, it certainly would not pertain to him, exclusively.


  From Chinese POV, China is getting stronger and US is getting weaker. This is most important thing to understand. US is currently dominant power in the world, but China aims to replace it. And for last 25 years or so, China is getting close to that goal. Already in some areas, China has took primacy.

  Therefore, from Chinese perspective, it is essential to avoid open conflict with US as long as possible. Time works for China, not for US. Rhetoric is cheap, China regularly accuses US for acting unilaterally, breaching international law, sponsoring insurrections and terrorism etc... But money talks and BS walks. As long China views cooperation with US as beneficial, it would continue on present course of mild appeasement and not trading blow for blow (i.e. word for word) . Because, in the end, if China in next 10 years overtakes US as No 1 power in the world, all US rhetoric would not change that fact.

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