Trump hails 'tremendous' progress in US-China trade talks, will meet Xi to seal deal

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Trump (left) meeting China's Liu He (right) in the Oval Office of the White House. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump said he would meet Chinese President Xi Jinping potentially more than once to finalise a deal to end the currently-paused trade war between their two countries, possibly combining it with his trip to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the end of February.

He had an optimistic take on the high-level US-China trade talks in Washington that ended on Thursday (Jan 31), hailing the "tremendous progress" made on the thorny issue of forced technology transfers and welcoming China's ongoing purchase of five million tons of soybeans per day as a sign of good faith.

But any final deal would have to be a comprehensive one that left nothing unresolved and contained "strong enforcement language", he told reporters before a closed-door meeting with Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He, who led the Chinese trade delegation.

Mr Trump also said there had been no talk of extending the March 1 deadline for the two countries to reach an agreement, failing which the US would go ahead with planned tariff hike from 10 to 25 per cent on US$200 billion (S$270 billion) worth of Chinese goods.

"There are some points that we don't agree to yet, but I think we will agree. I think, when President Xi and myself meet, every point will be agreed to," said Mr Trump.

"We're going to have a great trade deal with China if it all works out…it's going to be great for both countries -- not just us, not just them," he added.

Beijing too struck an upbeat tone on the outcome of the two-day talks, noting that negotiators had discussed a range of issues, but focused on the trade imbalance, intellectual property rights protection, and the implementation mechanism of any eventual deal reached.

"Both sides have also set-out a timeline and road map for the next step of talks," reported state news agency Xinhua.

Nonetheless, the White House cautioned in a statement that while progress had been made over the past two days during the "intense and productive negotiations", much work remained to be done and March 1 represented a hard deadline.

Mr Liu also delivered a letter from Mr Xi to Mr Trump, in which the Chinese President said he hoped both sides would continue to act in a spirit of mutual respect and win-win cooperation, and meet each other halfway to reach an early agreement that was in both their interests.

"It falls to us to work together and accomplish things meaningful for the people of our two countries and the world at large," said Mr Xi in the letter, an English translation of which was read out to reporters.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Chinese had proposed a Trump-Xi meeting in the southern Chinese island of Hainan, after Mr Trump's second summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un in late February.

The two-day talks covered a wide range of issues, including the ways in which American companies are pressured to transfer technology to Chinese companies, the need for stronger protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights in China, and the harm resulting from China's cyber-theft of US commercial property, said the White House.

It also listed the numerous barriers faced by US companies in China, the role of market-distorting forces like subsidies and state-owned enterprises in leading to excess capacity, and the need to remove market barriers and tariffs that limit United States sales of manufactured goods, services, and agriculture to China, among other issues.

"The two sides also discussed the need to reduce the enormous and growing trade deficit that the United States has with China. The purchase of United States products by China from our farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, and businesses is a critical part of the negotiations," said the White House.

Mr Trump zeroed in on China's commitment to buy five million tons of American soybeans a day, which Mr Liu said had already begun.

"That's a tremendous purchase, which will take place now. And our farmers are going to be very happy," said Mr Trump.

He said that the case of Huawei, whose chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou has been charged with bank fraud and other crimes, had not been discussed yet but would be at some point.

"Actually, as big as it might seem, it's very small compared to the overall deal, but that will be discussed," he said when asked by a reporter.

At the same meeting, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told reporters that among the most important issues discussed had been "enforcement, enforcement, enforcement".

"Both sides agree this agreement is worth nothing -- if we can get an agreement, it's worth nothing without enforcement," he said.

He said that he and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will be going to Beijing in early February to continue negotiations, adding that both sides are already more or less in constant negotiation "with a brief pause for the Chinese New Year".

Said Mr Lighthizer: "At this point, it's impossible for me to predict success, but we are in a place that, if things work, it could happen."

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