David Malpass, US Treasury Department under secretary for international affairs. Photo: Reuters / Agustin Marcarian

Amid the increasingly hostile rhetoric broadcast out of Washington, Chinese officials have been engaging in high-profile efforts to get the Trump administration to the negotiating table on trade. It appears the situation may be marginally less dire than it appeared.

US Treasury Department Under Secretary for International Affairs David Malpass walked back comments he reiterated on Sunday and had originally made last year that a high-level economic dialogue was effectively dead.

Malpass told the Financial Times last December that the Comprehensive Economic Dialogue (CED) was “stalled,” and there were no plans to revive talks. He repeated this on Sunday, speaking in Buenos Aires, saying that the Treasury Department had “discontinued” the CED.

But Malpass later clarified his comments to reporters.

“I misspoke,” Bloomberg quoted the under secretary as saying on Sunday. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin “has high-level talks with China,” he said, adding that the Treasury Department engages in “private” conversations with policymakers in Beijing.

The CED was the product of US President Donald Trump’s first bilateral summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and was touted at the time as a breakthrough that could facilitate more efficient high-level negotiations on sticky trade issues.

The concept was a spin-off from the existing Security and Economic Dialogue mechanism, which China’s now-vice-president Wang Qishan had attended in the past. Wang has reportedly been tapped to take a higher-profile role in US-China ties, and is said to be pushing hard for the CED to restart.