China's Vice-Premier Liu He, center, shares a joke with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, right, and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, left, in Beijing. Photo AFP / Nicolas Asfouri

The Trump administration was busy this week trying to construct something of a deadline for ending trade talks with China, but Beijing has dropped some hints that a deal by next week may not be in the cards.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin suggested in comments on Monday that an up-or-down decision on the text of the agreement would be public by the end of next week.

But a Chinese social media account that analysts say has been used to publicize progress on the secretive negotiations dismissed the narrative as a pressure tactic.

The comments from Mnuchin, as well as other US officials involved in the negotiation, were intended “to increase tensions and generate pressure on the other side,” the Taoran Notes WeChat account wrote, as reported by The South China Morning Post. The account is operated by the state-run Economic Daily.

The same account dismissed an earlier March 1 deadline for trade talks as an “agenda-setting” trap set by the United States. That earlier editorial was correct in its assessment that the March 1 deadline would be extended.

The post this week had the same message about next week being the final step in the process.

“It’s the same tactic as the US threatening to raise tariffs, it is merely smoke and mirrors to exert extreme pressure … You don’t have to take it seriously,” the account said.

The editor of state-owned Global Times was also quick to tamp down the narrative pushed by Mnuchin and others, noting that the Chinese side has been silent.

“Beijing hasn’t released any information on this round of trade talks,” Hu Xijin wrote on Twitter. “I only have it confirmed Chinese negotiators will go to Washington next week. Their cautiousness shows they don’t want the Chinese public expects too much now. In case the result is bad, people can take it,” he said.

A top official from the US Chamber of Commerce said that the two sides are in the “end game,” but that some key issues raised by the Trump administration will have to be left off the table.

Chinese negotiators are asking that the question of cybertheft of intellectual property be addressed in a different venue, said Myron Brilliant, head of international affairs at the Chamber, per The New York Times. US President Donald Trump has said that the issue would be dealt with as part of the deal.

The US has also compromised on their demands for China to eliminate state subsidies, Brilliant said, though the agreement may include commitments for Beijing to disclose details of its subsidies.

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