BEIJING — Trade talks between U.S. and Chinese officials in Beijing this week were “productive,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tweeted on Friday, but there was no indication that the two sides had managed to broker an end to their protracted trade war.
A White House statement after the talks said they had led to “progress between the two parties,” but “much work remains.”
Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer went to see Chinese President Xi Jinping at the end of the talks, before heading to the airport.
Xi praised their cooperation and struck a positive note about the prospect of resolution.
“I have said many times that China and the United States are inseparable from each other. Cooperation serves the interests of the two sides and conflict can only hurt both,” he said to the American representatives, according to an account of the meeting from state broadcaster CCTV.
“The consultations between the two teams have made important progress,” Xi said, adding they would continue next week in Washington.
Liu is China’s top economic official. He was invited into the Oval Office to see President Trump after talks in Washington at the end of last month, triggering Friday’s reciprocal visit in Beijing.
The White House said the talks focused on “structural issues, including forced technology transfer, intellectual property rights, cyber theft, agriculture, services, non-tariff barriers, and currency,” and next week’s talks in Washington would be at the ministerial level.
The two sides made some progress toward a memorandum of understanding aimed at defusing the countries’ trade tensions, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people with knowledge of the matter.
The memorandum could serve as the framework for a deal that Trump and Xi might later finalize at a summit, the paper reported.
The two sides are racing to secure an agreement by the March 1 deadline that Trump set for a “comprehensive” deal to rebalance the trading relationship between the world’s two largest economies, under the threat of a doubling of the $200 billion in tariffs that Trump has slapped on Chinese imports.
Trump wants to narrow the U.S. trade deficit with China, which is expected to have exceeded a record $400 billion in 2018, and Beijing has already pledged to buy more American products.
But the Trump administration has been pushing for broader structural reforms that will tackle some of the underlying issues that the American president says give China an unfair trading advantage. These revolve around China’s industrial policy, particularly support for state-owned enterprises and subsidies for businesses in key high-tech fields.
The United States — along with many other Western governments — accuses China of forcing foreign investors to hand over their technology as the price for doing business in the $13 trillion economy, and of not doing enough to protect intellectual property rights.
Analysts say that those structural reforms will be difficult for China, where the economy is slowing steadily. It grew at 6.4 percent last year, its lowest rate since 1989, and could fall below 6 percent this year.
But some also say that Trump, facing political troubles at home, might settle for narrowing the trade deficit through the Chinese purchases of American goods.
“President Trump is much more interested in somewhat symbolic wins, in particular China’s commitment to purchase a given amount of U.S. goods, than he is in the more abstract structural issues,” said Michael Hirson, Eurasia Group’s director for China.
Before the talks opened Thursday, Trump suggested that he might extend the deadline to allow more time for the negotiations.
Trump’s economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said Thursday that the “vibe” in the meeting was good and that he was “cautiously optimistic” about the talks. “They are moving through all of the issues. They are getting the job done,” he told Fox News.
David J. Lynch in Washington contributed to this report.
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