BUENOS AIRES – President Donald Trump kicked off a closely watched dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday by expressing guarded optimism that the two nations could make progress in their simmering trade war “at some point.”
The meeting, the first face-to-face encounter between Trump and Xi in more than a year, may offer signs of a truce between Washington and Beijing after the two countries have spent months applying ever-higher tariffs on each other’s exports. But White House officials sent mixed signals heading into the meeting about the chances for success.
“We’ll be discussing trade and I think at some point we’re going to end up doing something that’s great for China and great for the United States,” Trump, seated across from Xi at a long, ornately decorated table, said at the beginning of the dinner. “We’ll probably end up getting something that will be good for China and good for the United States.”
For Trump, the dinner with Xi caps an abbreviated visit to Buenos Aires for the G-20 summit, where the White House hoped to highlight the president’s diplomatic efforts on global trade. His visit was instead largely overshadowed by a plea deal struck by his former attorney, Michael Cohen, and the death of former president George H.W. Bush.
In his own opening remarks, Xi did not address trade directly.
“Only with cooperation between us can we serve the interest of both peace and prosperity,” the Chinese leader said through a translator.
Trump was joined at the dinner by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and chief of staff John Kelly, among other high-level U.S. officials. They will dine on grilled sirloin, vegetable salad and caramel rolled pancakes, the White House said.
The trade dispute with China escalated over the summer when Trump slapped the first round of tariffs on Chinese imports in response to what he and others have said are Beijing’s unfair trade practices, including the theft or forced transfer of intellectual property from U.S. businesses.
So far, Trump has levied tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods. Some of those tariffs are scheduled to increase on Jan. 1 to a rate of 25 percent, up from the current 10 percent.
Trump also has threatened duties on another $267 billion in Chinese goods. If he follows through, virtually every Chinese-made product shipped into the U.S. would be subject to a tariff.
China has retaliated by levying tariffs on $110 billion worth of U.S. products, including farm equipment, soybeans, electric cars, orange juice, whiskey, salmon and cigars.
In the days leading up to the meeting, White House officials, including U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, tried to ratchet up the pressure on China. Trump and others have said they saw little sign that Beijing was offering to make substantial changes.
US President Donald Trump arrives for G20 summit
Lighthizer said China’s “aggressive, state-directed industrial policies” are causing severe harm to U.S. workers and manufacturers. The U.S. continues to raise those issues with China, Lighthizer said, but so far China “has not come to the table with proposals for meaningful reform.’’
At the president’s direction, Lighthizer said he would examine all available tools to equalize the tariffs applied to automobiles.
Though Trump’s tariffs were intended at least in part to punish China for stealing intellectual property, they haven’t been much of a deterrent.
China shows no sign of ending its practice of conducting and supporting cyber-enabled theft and intrusions into the commercial networks of U.S. companies, a report by Lighthizer’s office concluded in late November.
In fact, China’s use of cyber-enabled theft has increased in frequency and sophistication since the trade representative’s office issued its initial findings in March, the report said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters at the summit that she wants to see better trade relations between the two countries.
“All of us see that we are affected indirectly when Chinese-American economic relations are not as frictionless as a world order requires,” she said.
Contributed: Associated Press
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