WASHINGTON -- By pushing back a proposed summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration appear to be dialing up the pressure on Beijing for further concessions on trade in the face of a March 1 negotiation deadline.
The sides are discussing structural issues in order to come to a deal. The White House announced on Friday that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will meet with Chinese officials in Beijing Feb. 14-15 to discuss trade issues.
The American delegation will also include other officials from the Treasury, Agriculture, Commerce and Energy departments. Deputy USTR Jeffrey Gerrish will travel to China ahead of this meeting.
According to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce official briefed by Washington on the situation, China has yet to offer concrete steps to resolve issues such as preferential treatment for state-owned companies -- including subsidies from regional governments -- and forcing U.S. companies to transfer technology to their Chinese business partners.
Trump on Thursday rejected a summit with Xi this month in order to ramp up the pressure on China for progress toward an agreement. Beijing has pinned its hopes for winding down the trade war on direct meetings with Trump, having been burned in the past when the president overruled other Washington officials. Under the circumstances, working too swiftly for a summit could put the U.S. at a disadvantage in negotiations.
Trump has turned to this playbook before. Last year, the president abruptly canceled his historic summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un to rattle the leader, before calling the meeting back on.
China has shown a willingness to take certain steps, such as cracking down on pirated goods and other intellectual property infractions and granting U.S. financial institutions licenses to operate in China. But many of the concessions Beijing is offering appear to be rehashes of measures previously announced.
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has already given official notice that tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports will be raised to 25% from 10% on March 2. The hike will kick in automatically unless the two sides reach an agreement, possibly over the phone, or the U.S. decides to allow an extension.
The view has arisen in some corners of the White House that hiking tariffs would impact the U.S. economy and hurt Trump's re-election prospects, according to an American government source. Trump looks likely to continue mixing hardball and softball with China in an effort to produce results he can pitch to voters as a win for America.