US and China sign trade agreement

US liquefied natural gas exports will benefit from a Chinese trade thaw
  • As Nepal joins China’s OBOR initiative
  • Taiwan not invited to WHO assembly, but negotiations go on

The US and China have reached a 10-point trade deal that opens the Chinese market to US credit rating agencies and credit card companies.

Under the deal, China will also lift its ban on US beef imports and accept US shipments of liquefied natural gas.

In return, Chinese cooked chicken will be allowed into the US market and Chinese banks can enter the US market.

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the deal should reduce China’s trade surplus with the US by the end of 2017.

The announcement marks the first tangible results of trade talks that began last month.

The agreement is seen as an indication that US President Donald Trump is adopting a less confrontational approach with Beijing than he promised during last year’s election campaign.

Mr Trump had threatened to label China a “currency manipulator” and impose trade tariffs on its goods, but has since softened his position.

He had also attempted to link US-China trade talks to concerns over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, urging Beijing to exert more pressure on Pyongyang.

However, after the trade deal was announced, China’s vice-minister of finance, Zhu Guangyao, said economic issues should not be politicised.

“On the connection between the North Korean nuclear issue and our economic ‘100 days’ plan’ negotiations, I can tell you frankly that our economy team focused all their efforts on economic issues,” he told journalists.

In the meantime, Nepal on Friday inked a deal with China to join Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative to link Asia with Europe, a move that may worry India.

The decision to sign the agreement comes ahead the One Belt One Road (OBOR) forum in Beijing on May 14 and 15.

Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Yu Hong and Nepal’s Foreign Secretary Shankar Bairagi signed an MoU at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Singhadurbar, Kathmandu.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Krishna Bahadur Mahara and Minister for Foreign Affairs Prakash Sharan Mahat were present during the signing ceremony.

“The MoU is an important moment in the bilateral relation between the two countries. Roads and railways connectivity is important for us and we want investment in this sector,” Mahat said.

Yu said that the Belt and Road initiative will bring new opportunities for China-Nepal cooperation and South Asia’s development.

“To promote Belt and Road initiative, we are committed to the principles of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits.

Openness, inclusiveness and mutual benefit are the defining features of the initiative. The Initiative is not only open to the countries in the region, but also open to the countries outside the region who are interested in it,” said Yu.

The OBOR aims to enhance connectivity and cooperation among countries, primarily between China and the rest of Asia and Europe through land as well as maritime routes.

China had sent a draft proposal on OBOR to Nepal late last year. After a month-long consultation, the Nepalese side had sent back the draft to Beijing with some changes.

Nepal signing the deal with China may cause concerns in India, which has opposed Beijing’s initiative. India has reservations over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, part of the OBOR, as it is proposed to pass through the Pakistan- occupied Kashmir.

India, which has traditionally enjoyed great economic and political ties with Nepal, has faced increasing competition from China in recent years.
Landlocked Nepal relies heavily on imports from India and completely on Indian ports for sea access.

In another development, the World Health Organization on Friday left open the possibility that Taiwan could still attend its upcoming annual assembly, saying talks are continuing despite China’s insistence that a delegation from the island must be excluded for the first time since 2009.

For now, WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan, who is from Hong Kong, “is not in a position to issue an invitation for Taiwanese observers to attend to the World Health Assembly” that starts May 22, said Dr. Tim Armstrong, who heads the WHO department of governing bodies.

But Armstrong told reporters that “negotiations are still ongoing,” adding, “Anything is possible.”

China has used its clout as one of five veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council to exclude Taiwan from the United Nations and other world bodies that require sovereign status for membership. China insists that the island is part of its territory.

Armstrong said this year, no “cross-strait understanding” exists between Taiwan and China like those that allowed Taiwan to send delegates since 2009, but that he had no details on why that was. Other U.N. member states have been supportive of Taiwan’s attendance.

Officials in Beijing have said repeatedly over the last week that no Taiwanese observer delegation will be allowed to attend the WHA this year. They said that’s because Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has declined to endorse Beijing’s view that Taiwan and China are part of a single Chinese nation.

Taiwan has been pushing for an invitation, and Tsai tweeted Sunday that the self-governing democracy deserves inclusion.

Past contacts between Taiwanese experts and WHO will continue even if Taiwan cannot attend, Armstrong said. He said a January visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to the WHO headquarters in Geneva “had nothing to do with” the issue of Taiwan’s WHA attendance.

As part of longstanding U.N. policy, journalists who present Taiwanese identity papers in their applications for accreditation for the assembly will be denied access to the event, said U.N. Geneva spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci.

BBC with additional report from Zee and Abc News