China’s President Xi Jinping “is scheduled to meet” key members of the US trade talks delegation, including US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, in Beijing on Friday, according to sources close to the matter.
“Xi is scheduled to meet both Lighthizer and Mnuchin on Friday,” one source briefed on the arrangements told the South China Morning Post.
A second source said Xi was expected to meet the US delegation in Beijing this week, although the specific time had not been confirmed.
In addition, a banquet would be hosted for the US delegation in “a Chinese cuisine restaurant” in downtown Beijing later this week, with Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He expected to toast the US delegates, the first source added.
Liu, who is China’s top trade negotiator, met US President Donald Trump in the White House at the end of January.
If confirmed, such arrangements, including a meeting between Xi and Washington’s top trade envoys, would be a sign of goodwill to cement a trade deal between the world’s two biggest economies.
Officials at the trade talks in Beijing this week aim to produce a pact that could be finalised at a yet-to-be-confirmed summit between Xi and Trump.
The two leaders met in Argentina in December 1 to agree the present 90-day truce, and the Post reported earlier that the two sides were still discussing the location and time for the next summit.
Trump told reporters on Tuesday that he would consider pushing back the March 1 deadline for trade negotiations with China if both sides were close to making a deal.
He said he could see himself “letting that slide for a little while”, referring to the looming deadline, at which point US tariffs on US$200 billion of Chinese imports are scheduled to increase from 10 to 25 per cent.
“But generally speaking, I’m not inclined to do that,” he added.
The Chinese side has been largely muted about the March 1 deadline.
In Beijing, both sides remained tight-lipped over the progress of closed-door trade negotiations.
Lighthizer and Mnuchin landed in Beijing on Tuesday for the latest round of trade talks, which are scheduled for Thursday and Friday, with a lower-level delegation, led by deputy trade representative Jeffrey Gerrish, holding preparatory talks in the Chinese capital since Monday.
When asked on Wednesday about his hopes for the trip, Mnuchin said he was looking for “productive meetings” with Chinese officials.
Analysts have said it will be difficult for the world’s two biggest economies to resolve their trade disputes by the deadline, given the challenge of US demands for structural reform in China to address issues of intellectual property protection, forced technology transfers and state subsidies favouring domestic companies.
Other issues being negotiated include the trade imbalance in China’s favour, cybertheft, currency controls, market access and an enforcement mechanism for any agreements made.