Expectations are decidedly muted that the upcoming encounter between United States President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping could put out the surging fire sparked by tensions between the world's two largest trading partners. If the vibes from the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) meeting were not sobering enough, a report from US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has dampened hopes further. Apec was unable to release a joint communique because the US and China could not narrow their differences on trade and security.
And on the eve of the Group of 20 summit in Argentina, where Mr Trump and Mr Xi are to meet over Friday and Saturday, Mr Lighthizer said in a report that Beijing had not altered policies related to technology transfer, intellectual property and innovation to Washington's satisfaction. It is unlikely then, days after Vice-President Mike Pence blankly declared the US would not change its course until China changed its ways, that a deal is forthcoming. At most, both sides might reach a ceasefire of sorts. If they agree to disagree, Mr Trump could roll back the threat to hike the 10 per cent tariff on US$200 billion (S$275 billion) of Chinese products to 25 per cent from January and possibly forswear from expanding tariffs to cover all Chinese imports. Beijing, not holding out for a deal either, expects a broad concordance might be struck, with negotiations to follow. More talks are fine. Especially if they create more space for both nations, brought together by trade, to manage each other.