BEIJING -- Negotiations with China over a trade deal are going "very well," U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday as cabinet-level bilateral trade talks were set to resume here Thursday.
"We have a big team of people -- very talented people -- over in China right now negotiating on the China deal," Trump told reporters at the White House back in Washington. "It’s going along very well. ... They're showing us tremendous respect."
Structural reform and enforcement are expected to top the agenda when the high-level discussions begin in the Chinese capital.
In a sign of the importance Washington is placing on this round of meetings, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin arrived at a hotel here on Tuesday evening, two days before their talks were scheduled to begin. Deputy-level negotiations began on Monday.
Trump has used the run-up to the talks to set the tone for the American side. "China wants to make a deal very badly," he told reporters on Tuesday.
The president hinted that he might be willing to show some flexibility and let the deadline "slide for a little while" if negotiators are close to a "real deal." A proposal has reportedly emerged in Washington to first reach a partial agreement on expanding Chinese imports of American goods and opening Chinese markets, before using the extension period to focus on the trickier matter of structural issues.
But Trump went on to say he was "not inclined" to allow more time. He stressed that once the deadline passes, Washington will raise its additional 10% tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods to 25%. The mixed signals appear to be a gambit to pressure Beijing into further concessions.
In the previous round of talks late last month, the Chinese side offered to buy more American energy and agricultural products, further open up its financial markets and crack down on counterfeiting. But the negotiations reportedly produced no new proposals to address American concerns about intellectual property theft, forced technology transfers and subsidies to state-owned enterprises.
Any deal "must include real, structural change to end unfair trade practices, reduce our chronic trade deficit and protect American jobs," Trump said in his State of the Union address last week.
Washington is also insistent on including a mechanism for checking that Beijing is holding up its side of the bargain. It is considering a provision to impose penalties such as additional sanctions if violations are found, though China is said to be leery of the idea.
The back-and-forth at the talks will also cover when and where to have Trump meet with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. The U.S. president has asserted that "no final deal will be made" without a summit, while Beijing seeks an agreement between the two leaders to ensure Trump will not go back on his word.
The South China Morning Post reported Wednesday that Xi plans to meet with the U.S. delegation here this week. This suggests that Beijing is keen to move forward with the summit arrangements.
During the previous round of talks, the two sides had worked toward setting up a meeting this month. Trump had been open to the idea, but changed his tune last week, saying a February summit would be "probably too soon."
"At some point, I expect to meet with President Xi" to "make the parts of the deal that the group is unable to make," Trump said Tuesday. But he said he has no plans "at this moment" to meet with Xi at the end of March.