US's Mnuchin to lead trade talks with China

Washington (AFP) –


US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will lead trade talks with China due to take place on Thursday and Friday as the countries try to head off a trade war.

"These meetings are a continuation of the talks held in Beijing two weeks ago and will focus on rebalancing the United States?China bilateral economic relationship," the White House said in a statement.

The US has threatened to impose 25 percent punitive duties on up to $150 billion in Chinese goods while China has targeted $50 billion in American exports.

China's Vice Premier Liu He leads the trade delegation from Beijing. US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer also will participate.

The talks, part of a busy week of trade negotiations and tight deadlines, have become enmeshed in political intrigue after an adviser to President Donald Trump who is considered a hardliner on China was left out.

Peter Navarro, who was seen as having a more dominant role with the departure of White House economic advisor Gary Cohn over trade issues, was left off the list, although the statement said "Additional senior Administration Officials will also participate."

According to press reports, Navarro sparred with Mnuchin over his handling of the China talks and was barred from attending the meetings this week.

Meanwhile, Trump earlier on Wednesday denied caving to China over US sanctions on the telecoms equipment maker ZTE.

- ZTE and Indonesia -

The comments followed Trump's surprise announcement on Sunday that the administration was exploring ways to soften the blow from a ban on exporting crucial US technology to the company, which Washington says violated sanctions and misled US officials.

"Nothing has happened with ZTE except as it pertains to the larger trade deal," Trump said on Twitter.

"China has seen our demands. There has been no folding as the media would love people to believe. The meetings haven't even started yet!"

However, Ross has said twice in the past week that the two sides had exchanged detailed lists of demands.

Trump's remarks followed an AFP report last week that a Chinese state enterprise was pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into an Indonesian real estate development linked to the American president's business empire, prompting questions of possible quid-pro-quo for ZTE.

ZTE was fined $1.2 billion in March 2017 but last month it was prohibited from receiving needed US parts after the Commerce Department found the company had lied multiple times and failed to take actions against employees responsible for sanctions violations on Iran and North Korea.

The company faced collapse as a result and Trump said Sunday he and Chinese President Xi Jinping were exploring ways to get the company "back into business fast," and ordered the Commerce Department to take action.