BEIJING -- American and Chinese officials resumed trade talks here Monday to lay the groundwork for high-level negotiations later this week and a possible deal-making summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in March.
But the two sides seemed locked in a tug of war over the location and timing of the summit after Trump pushed back a plan for the two leaders to meet by a March 1 tariff hike deadline.
Trump advisers have informally discussed holding the summit at the president's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida as soon as mid-March, according to U.S. news website Axios.
The South China Morning Post, meanwhile, reports that Beijing has proposed having Trump and Xi meet on the southern Chinese island of Hainan around the time of the annual Boao Forum for Asia in late March.
While global markets hold their breath, some in the U.S. government are calling for extending the deadline to focus on resolving disagreement over structural changes to China's economy.
The working-level meeting that kicked off Monday was attended by Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Jeff Gerrish and officials from the Treasury, Commerce, Agriculture and Energy departments. They were seen departing from a Beijing hotel that morning to China's Ministry of Commerce, the meeting venue.
Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, the lead negotiator with the U.S., briefly joined the working-level discussion and is thought to have made opening remarks. Also in attendance were People's Bank of China Gov. Yi Gang; Vice Minister of Commerce Wang Shouwen; and Ning Jizhe, a deputy leader of the National Development and Reform Commission.
The talks are likely to focus on structural issues in the Chinese economy, as well as a mechanism for verifying compliance with the terms of an eventual agreement. In his State of the Union address earlier this month, Trump said a new trade deal with Beijing "must include real, structural change to end unfair trade practices, reduce our chronic trade deficit and protect American jobs."
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying expressed optimism Monday over progress at the talks. "We, of course, hope, and the people of the world want to see, a good result," she told a news briefing.
The talks come amid renewed tensions in the South China Sea, with two American warships traveling near Chinese-claimed islands Monday as part of the U.S. Navy's freedom-of-navigation operations.
The USS Spruance and USS Preble destroyers sailed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef, one of seven artificial islands built by China in recent years.
"The related moves by U.S. warships have violated China's sovereignty and undermined peace, security and sound order in relevant waters," said Hua, who called for Washington to "stop such provocative moves immediately."
Trump has said he will decide by March 1 whether to increase punitive American tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods to 25% from the current 10% as scheduled if the two sides cannot come to terms in their trade dispute.
Nikkei staff writer Oki Nagai in Beijing contributed to this report.