U.S. and Chinese senior officials spoke by phone this week, the second call since the late June summit at which the two sides agreed to a truce in their ongoing trade conflict.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and U.S. Treasury Steven Mnuchin spoke to the Chinese side earlier, a USTR spokesman said. China’s Commerce Ministry said Vice Premier Liu He and Commerce Minister Zhong Shan were among those on the call. There were no details released from both sides on what was discussed.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang declined to comment on whether the two sides will next meet in Beijing at a regular briefing on Friday.
Talks between the two sides collapsed in May and there’s been little public progress since Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping agreed to a truce when they met in Japan last month. There are still deep differences between the two nations, with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross cautioning the negotiations would be a “long, involved process.”
Trump this week reiterated that he could impose additional tariffs on Chinese imports if he wants, and complained again that China wasn’t buying the large volumes of U.S. agricultural goods that he claims Xi promised to purchase. Another major sticking point for any resumed negotiations will be how exactly the U.S. will ease trade restrictions on Chinese technology giant Huawei Technologies Co.
The U.S. government is under pressure from Congress not to make concessions on Huawei, with a bipartisan group of U.S. Senate and House lawmakers unveiling legislation this week that that would stop the removal of Huawei from the “technology blacklist” without an act of Congress. U.S. Senator Rick Scott said on Thursday in an Bloomberg Television interview that Huawei is not a trade issue, but a national security one and is non-negotiable.
Mnuchin said earlier this week that if discussions with Chinese officials by phone were productive that he and Lighthizer would travel to Beijing for more meetings.