Xi Jinping to meet top US trade negotiators in Beijing

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks to the media at the White House in Washington, US, on February 6, 2019.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks to the media at the White House in Washington, US, on February 6, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP, REUTERS) - Chinese President Xi Jinping plans to meet with top US officials in Beijing this week, a report said Wednesday (Feb 13), as the world’s two biggest economies rush to patch up their trade differences before a looming deadline. 

Xi will meet on Friday with officials including US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who are in the capital for crunch talks towards a trade deal, the South China Morning Post reported. 

“Xi is scheduled to meet both Lighthizer and Mnuchin on Friday,” it said, quoting a source briefed on the arrangements. 

The US officials and their Chinese counterparts meet for talks on Thursday and Friday.  They are under the gun to seal an accord ahead of the deadline set by Donald Trump, though the US president said on Tuesday that he was open to extending that, depending on progress in Beijing. 

“If we’re close to a deal, where we think we can make a real deal ... I could see myself letting that slide for a little while,” Trump told reporters at the White House. 

In December, Washington suspended for three months Trump’s plan to increase tariffs on US$200 billion worth of Chinese imports – to 25 per cent from the current 10 per cent – to allow time for negotiations. 

Mnuchin told reporters in Beijing late on Tuesday he was eager to start. 

“We’re looking forward to several important days of talks,” he said in brief remarks.  He and other US officials left their hotel on Wednesday without making substantive remarks. 

The Chinese delegation will be led by Vice Premier Liu He, China’s point man on trade, and central bank governor Yi Gang.

A growing number of US businesses and lawmakers have expressed hopes for a delay in the tariff increase while the two sides tackle the difficult US demands for major “structural” policy changes by China aimed at ending the forced transfer of American trade secrets, curbing Beijing’s industrial subsidies and enforcing intellectual property rights.

Mr Trump said last week that he did not plan to meet Mr Xi before the March 1 deadline. 

The latest round of talks in Beijing kicked off on Monday with discussions among deputy-level officials to try to work out technical details, including a mechanism for enforcing any trade agreement.

A round of talks at the end of January ended with some progress reported, but no deal and US declarations that much more work was needed.

China and the US, the world’s two largest economies, have a series of other disagreements too, including over Chinese telecoms giant Huawei Technologies. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cautioned allies on Monday against deploying equipment from Chinese telecoms giant Huawei on their soil, saying it would make it more difficult for Washington to “partner alongside them”. 

The US and its Western allies believe Huawei’s apparatus could be used for espionage, and see its expansion into central Europe as a way to gain a foothold in the European Union market. 

Both the Chinese government and Huawei have dismissed these concerns.