With a U.S.-China trade deal at least weeks away, Chinese negotiators have suggested combining a long-discussed state visit by President Xi Jinping to the United States with the announcement of any forthcoming agreement, according to three sources briefed on discussions.
The two countries had been planning a meeting between the two leaders at President Donald Trump's private Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida to follow Xi's late-March visit to Europe, to avoid the optics of a standalone trip to announce a trade deal on U.S. soil.
But U.S. officials have suggested there are too many outstanding details to conclude negotiations by then, making a meeting in March unlikely.
"Our hope is we are in the final weeks of having an agreement," Robert Lighthizer, the Trump administration's top trade official, testified to the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday. But Lighthizer would not commit to a positive outcome, or a resulting meeting, and said many issues remain. "If those issues are not resolved in favor of the United States, we won't have a deal."
Since the two countries brokered a temporary truce at the G-20, U.S. negotiators have been seeking commitments and concessions up front, while Chinese negotiators had sought to shelve complicated issues for the two presidents to settle in person.
But that dynamic changed, the three people briefed on the talks said, when Trump walked out on talks with Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, after North Korea sought an end to sanctions. Beijing now wants a deal fully locked in before its leader sits down with Trump, although Trump would still prefer to close the deal himself.
"We could have the deal completed and come and sign — or we can get the deal almost completed and negotiate some of the final points," Trump said Wednesday. "I would prefer that."