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Treasury Secretary Mnuchin to visit China in a few days, Trump says

President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he was sending a delegation of his top economic advisers to Beijing next week to try to settle trade disputes that have upset US-China relations and rattled markets world-wide.

"I think we've got a very good chance of making a deal," said Trump, who called China's leader Xi Jinping "a friend of mine," but noted that there remained significant obstacles to a deal.

Trump said that the US delegation was making the trip at China's request and that he was heartened by recent remarks by Xi, suggesting that he was prepared to open his country's economy to more foreign investment and ease restrictions on imports of American cars.

The members of the US team will include Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow and White House trade adviser Peter Navarro. Trump did not say specifically when next week the trip would occur, but a person familiar with the discussions said that the team is likely to be in Beijing around May 3 and May 4.

The trip to China will be Mnuchin's first as Treasury secretary. While he's met with Chinese counterparts in Washington and during G-20 meetings in Europe, Mnuchin hasn't traveled to meet them on their home turf. His last three predecessors visited China within the first months of their tenures as Treasury secretary.

Trade tensions between the world's two largest economies have escalated in the last several weeks. Both countries proposed tariffs on the other, after the Trump administration's "Section 301" investigation into China's business practices.

The Trump administration has proposed tariffs on more than 1,300 Chinese products in response to complaints about China's acquisition of US intellectual property. The Chinese government in turn proposed its own tariffs on US goods, targeting agriculture and other exports from rural and Midwest areas important to Trump's election.

Last week, the US also banned domestic companies from providing components or software to Chinese technology giant ZTE. The move comes amid the Trump administration's broader efforts to curb Chinese investments in US technology companies and limit intellectual property transfer.

"I am not going to make any comment on the timing, nor do I have anything confirmed, but a trip is under consideration," Mnuchin told reporters on Saturday during a news conference.

China has received information regarding Mnuchin's possible trip to China and China welcomes this information, China's Ministry of Commerce said on Sunday.

Chinese officials have increasingly turned to Mnuchin as their primary contact in trade talks, which some observers say may stem from China's perception that he is more sensitive to their concerns. After the formal "economic dialogue" between the US and China stalled last summer, Mnuchin has held regular discussions with his Chinese counterparts, including Liu He, China's new economic minister.

The Chinese view Mnuchin and Kudlow, who both previously worked on Wall Street, as potentially more moderate voices who would be more reluctant to start a trade conflict that could damage American businesses and cause stock markets to plunge. They hope the two men will be more sympathetic to offers to open up China's financial market and reduce its trade surplus by making purchases of American natural gas and other products, people briefed on the deliberations said.

Navarro and Lighthizer, meanwhile, have criticized China's offerings and insisted that the Chinese make more sweeping changes to its economy, including removing industrial subsidies and rolling back government intervention in the economy.

Next month, the Treasury Department is expected to release a plan to further restrict Chinese investment in American companies, including industries such as semiconductors and artificial intelligence that are sensitive for national security reasons. The rules could also restrict American partnerships with Chinese companies abroad.

Edward Mills, a public policy analyst at Raymond James Financial, said that he still viewed negotiations that averted tariffs as the most likely outcome. That could include, for example, China promising to reduce tariffs on American cars, open up its financial sector and drop rules that require American companies to partner with Chinese firms in many industries. But the negotiations could drag out for months, damaging business relations.
 


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