China's commerce minister told visiting US Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans yesterday that his four-year tenure has been only 70 percent successful, and urged Washington to grant Beijing market economy status.
The pointed comments came as Evans began a three-day visit aimed at pressing China to do more to stop rampant product piracy.
"Judging from the view of friends and judging from the achievements of your work, I should say that 70 percent of what you have done has been pretty good," said Commerce Minister Bo Xilai (薄熙來).
A visibly uncomfortable Evans responded with surprise.
"Oh, hey, that's almost flunking," he said. "That's almost failure."
Bo said granting China market economy status would show that the US is "willing to promote its trade with China on a free and fair footing."
He expressed regret at Washington's decision not to grant it.
Such a designation would make it harder for US companies to win claims that Chinese competitors are setting unfairly low prices on goods sold in the US market.
Evans said last week that China "was not there yet" in taking steps to qualify for it.
Yesterday, he said in a speech to business leaders at the American Chamber of Commerce that countries seeking such a designation "must end government intervention and allow market forces to drive their economies."
Evans said China needed to do more overall to push the bilateral relationship forward.
"When Chinese leaders fail to produce results on points of friction and our trading relationship, their failure only empowers those critics within the US political system who seek to roll back the level of economic engagement," Evans said.
The US wants stiff prison sentences for property rights offenders, and other "tough criminal actions against those responsible for the thefts," he said.