Ex-Trump trade negotiator: The president signals Huawei flexibility ahead of weekend Xi meeting

Key Points
  • President Trump is signaling he could ease up on Chinese tech giant Huawei, says a former U.S. trade advisor and negotiator.
  • "I do think that there may be some flexibility from the U.S. on this issue," says Clete Willems, who left the White House in the spring.
  • Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are set to meet Saturday at the G-20 summit in Japan.
Willems: The US was 'forced' to be a leader against China because allies weren't

President Donald Trump may be willing to be flexible on his administration's tough stance on Chinese technology giant Huawei, former White House trade negotiator Clete Willems told CNBC on Friday.

"I do think that there may be some flexibility from the U.S.," said Willems, who left as White House deputy assistant for International Economic Affairs in the spring. In that role, he had been the lead negotiator for multilateral summits, including the G-20 in Japan, which features Saturday's trade meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Willems had also participated in trade talks with China.

"If President Xi comes in and he's unequivocal and says the U.S. can't take any action on Huawei, I don't think that's going to be productive," said Willems, referring to Beijing demands that any trade deal include relief for Huawei.

Last month, the White House declared a national emergency over tech threats, leading to the government effectively blacklisting Huawei from conducting business with U.S. companies. The Trump administration and lawmakers are worried that Huawei's equipment could be used by the ruling Chinese communist government for spying. Huawei has repeatedly said that would never happen.

The Trump-Xi meeting comes as the world's two largest economies are entrenched in a nearly year-long trade war, with the both sides stepping up tariffs on one another in the past two months and threatening additional punitive measures.

Talks stalled about a month and a half ago after Chinese hardliners began to resist some of Washington's terms.

Beijing would have had to change some of its laws and Xi indicated that his negotiating team was unwilling to make those changes, Willems said in a "Squawk on the Street" interview. "That's why you saw things go down."