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Commerce Secretary Ross tells Beijing to guarantee fair treatment for US firms, says to focus on reducing deficit with China

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said China needed to "guarantee fair and reciprocal treatment for US firms" as he tried to strike an upbeat tone on a visit to Beijing amid trade tensions between the two countries.

Ross told Premier Li Keqiang on Monday that the US hoped for "very good deliverables" when US President Donald Trump visits China, likely in November.

In a statement on Tuesday, the US Commerce Department said that Ross had also pressed China on the "need to rebalance bilateral trade and investment relations" and urged it to take "meaningful action" on trade issues.

"Secretary Ross once again continued to stress the need for concrete action to address the concerns of US businesses, and that the US would take action to defend American workers and businesses if cooperative efforts bear no fruit," the department said.

China committed to further market opening and welcomed participation by US firms, with both sides supporting talks to resolve trade frictions, it said.

China's relationship with the US has been strained by the Trump administration's criticism of China's trade practices and by demands that Beijing do more to pressure North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons and missiles programs.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Trump met for the first time in person at Trump's Mar-A-Lago estate in Florida in April. Trump has since played up his personal relationship with Xi, even as he kept up his criticism of China over North Korea and trade.

The two sides launched a 100-day economic plan at that meeting, including some industry-specific announcements such as the resumption of American beef sales in China. But US business groups have expressed disappointment that the talks have not yielded more progress in getting China to loosen restrictions on foreign investment in many sectors.

"If the kind of trade relations China and the US have are only beneficial to the Chinese side, then US companies would not continue to do so much business in China," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular press briefing.

Ross also told leaders in Beijing that he plans to lead a senior-level trade mission to China in November and again backed efforts to cut the US trade deficit with the world's largest exporter with "increased exports of high-value US goods and services to China and improved market access", the Commerce Department said in the statement.

Chinese officials stressed the importance of dialogue when it comes to unilateral action and said Beijing would have to respond in kind to any potential US action. Both sides said trade frictions should be resolved through negotiation.

The Trump administration has made reducing bilateral trade deficits a central goal of trade policy, and opened talks to renegotiate free trade agreements with Canada and Mexico, and with Korea.

As part of its combative trade policy, the Trump administration in recent months has opened an investigation into China's intellectual property rights protections, notably requiring forced transfer of technology before allowing a foreign company to invest, as well as the country's steel production, which could pose a national security threat to the US.

Ross' visit was in preparation for President Trump's planned trip to China in November.

The world's two top economies have also been at odds over how to handle North Korea's nuclear threat, with Beijing repeatedly calling for peace talks and the United States pressing for massive economic pressure on China's ally.

China has since agreed to a slew of UN sanctions against North Korea, including a new package of measures restricting some oil shipments following Pyongyang's sixth and most powerful nuclear test.

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