President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced firmed-up plans to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G-20 summit at the end of this month as the countries potentially head toward further escalation of their trade war.
“Had a very good telephone conversation with President Xi of China. We will be having an extended meeting next week at the G-20 in Japan,” Trump wrote on Twitter, news that prompted stocks to surge. He added that teams from Washington and Beijing would “begin talks prior to our meeting.”
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Chinese state media also confirmed Tuesday that the two leaders would meet on the sidelines of the G-20.
The president has long been promoting plans for the meeting, insisting on multiple occasions that he expected to meet with Xi when world leaders gather in Japan later this month. But Xi’s team had been less committal about a potential huddle, leaving the matter up in the air.
In May, a Chinese foreign ministry official said that the Trump administration’s moves to sanction several Chinese firms including controversial tech giant Huawei were “not helping to create a conducive environment for negotiations.”
But last week, sources told the South China Morning Post that the summit could end up like Trump and Xi’s last meeting, where negotiations took place over the course of a two-hour dinner rather than a chat on the sidelines of the event. That December meeting in Argentina yielded a tariff ceasefire and 90-day window for negotiations that was later extended.
Trump ratcheted up tensions in May when he slapped tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of products after accusing China of reneging on what he’s described as a nearly completed truce.
And he has threatened to place tariffs on another $300 billion worth of Chinese goods, saying he would hold off on doing so until after the G-20.
In one possible sign of progress toward arranging a summit meeting, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang was in Washington over the weekend for talks with administration officials, a White House official confirmed to POLITICO.
As of last Thursday, White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow said there were no “formalized” plans in place for a trade war summit between the two leaders. But Tuesday, he told reporters after Trump’s tweet that it was a “good call” for the leaders to meet, though he was careful to manage expectations.
“It’s really hard to say” whether Washington and Beijing are close to a deal, Kudlow said. “I don’t want to speculate. The two leaders will talk. That’s all I know. And as I said, our team insists on, as I just described it, structural changes. Long-lasting and enforceable structural changes.”
But, he insisted, “the fact that they’re meeting is a good thing.”
Kudlow was light on specifics of the conversation between Trump and Xi, but indicated that the call only skimmed the surface, telling reporters on the White House driveway that it was “more about scheduling a very important talk.”
In an interview on Fox News, Kudlow alluded to the stock market’s rally that followed Trump’s tweet. “I think the market is saying [it’s] better that they are talking about not talking,” he said, but “no results are guaranteed. I think people know that.”
The mere fact that Trump and Xi spoke on the phone may be encouraging — Trump last tweeted about a phone call with the Chinese leader on Dec. 29, and the White House has not provided any readouts of phone calls between the two men since.
Doug Palmer contributed to this report.