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China welcomes US' visit to discuss trade, amid talk of trip by US Treasury Secretary Mnuchin

China on Sunday (April 22) said that it welcomed plans by top US officials to visit the country to discuss trade and economic issues, amid tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

“The Chinese side has received information that the US side hopes to come to Beijing to discuss economic and trade issues. China welcomes this,” a short statement on the commerce ministry’s website said.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Saturday he was continuing to have discussions with his Chinese counterparts to try to resolve the differences over trade, and said he may travel to China.

“I am not going to make any comment on timing, nor do I have anything confirmed, but a trip is under consideration,” Mr Mnuchin told reporters in Washington at the International Monetary Fund's spring meetings.

He added that he is “cautiously optimistic” of reaching an agreement that defuses a dispute over trade.

A trip by the US Treasury secretary to China could signal a breakthrough in the spat between the world’s two biggest economies, which have threatened to slap tariffs on each other. A visit would come at a sensitive time for the region’s geopolitics, with negotiations under way on a meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Mr Mnuchin said he met with Mr Yi Gang, governor of the People’s Bank of China, at the IMF gathering. The discussions focused on issues related to the Chinese central bank, not trade, said the secretary.

Mr Mnuchin said they also discussed China’s planned further opening of some of the country’s markets, a move that US has encouraged and appreciated.

Mr Mnuchin said China has been very helpful in supporting US sanctions against North Korea, and he welcomed Mr Kim’s suspension of nuclear testing that was announced less than a day earlier.

“We are going to continue the sanctions” and a “maximum pressure” campaign until North Korea abandons its nuclear-weapons programme in a verifiable way, he said.

Mr Mnuchin indicated he's involved in a dialogue with the Chinese government to resolve the trade dispute.

“We’re cautiously optimistic to see if we can try to reach an agreement,” Mr Mnuchin said.

Escalating tensions between the US and China have rattled financial markets and raised concerns the world is barrelling towards a trade war. Mr Trump has proposed imposing tariffs on as much as US$150 billion (S$200 billion) on Chinese imports, while China has vowed to retaliate on everything from American soybeans to planes.

Mr Mnuchin also said he met with Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov during the IMF meeting, at Russia’s request. Moscow is seeking clarification on US sanctions, Mr Mnuchin said, without elaborating. “These are very important tools. We will continue to look at the use of sanctions in all different areas,” he said.

The US has had discussions with Japan on a bilateral trade agreement, the secretary said. Mr Trump had a “very successful” meeting this week in Florida with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Mr Mnuchin said.


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