Photo: Reuters/Carlos Barria
Photo: Reuters/Carlos Barria

After accusing Beijing of refusing to engage on trade, the Trump administration’s top economic adviser made it clear on Tuesday that the US president would be meeting with his Chinese counterpart, despite any pessimism.

Donald Trump will meet “for a bit” with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires next month, Larry Kudlow told reporters on the White House lawn, as quoted by CNBC.

“Our asks are on the table. I’d love to see them respond,” he added. “Thus far they haven’t.”

Kudlow made headlines several days ago when he told the Financial Times that Beijing had done “nothing” to defuse trade tensions, shying away from addressing a long list of demands that “basically hasn’t changed for five or six months.”

That characterization contradicts the account given by Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to the US, who told National Public Radio (NPR) early this month that the “US position keeps changing.”

Cui made the rounds on the US media circuit, also giving an interview with Fox News during which he said there was no clear negotiating point man in the White House.

Chinese negotiators “don’t know who is the final decision-maker. Of course, presumably, the president would take the final decision. But who is playing what role? Sometimes it could be very confusing,” Cui said.

The diplomat may be referring to the appearance last spring that US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was given authority to craft a deal that would see China buy more US energy and agriculture goods in exchange for a tariff truce.

Mnuchin was swiftly undercut by the president himself even after Trump gave the impression he was on board. The president went out of his way to pose for a photo op in the Oval Office with China’s chief representative in the trade talks, Vice-Premier Liu He.

Since then, Beijing has reportedly been reluctant to engage with Mnuchin, while US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has emerged as the more influential administration official on trade issues.

The G-20 meeting could give Xi Jinping an opportunity to present an offer with the confidence that any response will represent Trump’s actual views.

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