US President Donald Trump wants to reach an agreement on trade with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Argentina this month and has asked his officials to begin drafting terms, sources said.
The push for a deal with China was prompted by Trump’s telephone call with Xi on Thursday, the sources said. Trump described the conversation as “long and very good” and said in a tweet that discussions on trade were “moving along nicely”.
Trump asked his staff to draw up an outline of a deal that could lead to a ceasefire in an escalating trade conflict, a draft that would involve several government agencies.
The Chinese and US sides reported that the leaders had constructive discussions on North Korea and trade, and Chinese media said that Trump supported “frequent, direct communication” between the presidents and “joint efforts to prepare for” their meeting at the G20 summit. The gathering is expected to take place between November 30 and December 1 in Buenos Aires.
“Those discussions are moving along nicely,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Thursday. At a campaign rally in Columbia, Missouri, on Thursday night, he said: “They [China] want to make a deal.”
“He wants to do it,” Trump said of Xi. “They all want to do it.”
It was unclear if Trump was easing back on demands that China has resisted.
The development on trade comes after months of brewing tensions that threaten to poison other areas of disagreement, including freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
The US this year has imposed tariffs on US$250 billion in trade with China and is threatening to impose tariffs on all remaining imports from the country, which last year were worth US$505 billion.
Progress in US-China talks has stalled since May, when Trump put a stop to a deal that would have resulted in China buying more energy and agricultural goods to narrow the trade deficit.
In Beijing, that was regarded as an insult to Xi, who sent a personal emissary to Washington for the negotiations, and cemented a view that Trump’s real goal was to thwart China’s progress.
In recent months, China has repeatedly questioned the US’ sincerity in trade talks, wary of agreeing to something only to have Trump change his mind. While Beijing is open to striking a deal that narrows the trade deficit, officials have resisted Trump’s other demands – including an end to subsidies for strategic industries, a halt to forced technology transfer and more competition for state-owned enterprises.
One source said a sticking point in any deal was intellectual property theft, where the Trump administration has sought to take a hard line.
On Thursday, the US accused a Chinese state-owned company of conspiring to steal trade secrets of US chip maker Micron Technology as part of a Justice Department crackdown against China in cases of alleged economic espionage.
Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit and Taiwan’s United Microelectronics were charged along with three individuals, the Justice Department said. The US also sued to stop the companies from exporting to America any products that were created using the trade secrets.
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said at an event in Washington that Trump and Xi might be able to break the logjam on issues during the summit. But Kudlow warned that Trump would “aggressively” pursue his agenda against China, if no deals were reached on intellectual property theft, cybersecurity and tariffs on commodities, among other issues.