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Chinese officials becoming wary of a hurried trade deal

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President Donald Trump says he is optimistic that a landmark trade deal with China is close. Chinese officials are not so sure.

[BEIJING] President Donald Trump says he is optimistic that a landmark trade deal with China is close. Chinese officials are not so sure.

The two sides in recent weeks agreed to the broad outlines of an agreement that would roll back tariffs in both countries, with China buying more American goods and opening up some markets to foreign goods. The trade deal looks like a good one for Beijing, since it would largely spare the government from making substantive changes to its economy.

But some of the biggest details — like the enforcement mechanism to ensure China complies and the timing for the removal of tariffs — still haven't been hammered out. Beijing officials are wary that the final terms may be less favourable, especially given Trump's propensity for last-minute changes, according to two people familiar with China's position.

"The work team is still continuing to negotiate because we still have a lot to do," Commerce Minister Zhong Shan said on the sidelines of the 11-day annual session of the National People's Congress, which began Tuesday. At the legislative meeting, senior Chinese officials have been taking turns warning that challenges remain.

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The emerging gap is starting to put in doubt plans for President Xi Jinping to meet with Trump in late March or early April to sign a deal.

Chinese officials face a dilemma in asking their president to fly all the way to Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, without a clear understanding of the final details.

"If they're going to send their president all the way to Florida, they have to know there's an agreement in the end," said James Green, who until August was the top trade official at the US Embassy in Beijing and is now a fellow at Georgetown University.

But the Chinese also recognise that a presidential summit meeting may be the only path to completing a deal, since Trump has a tendency to undercut his advisers. A common view in China is that, "Donald Trump is very interested in doing a deal himself," said Bo Zhiyue, the deputy dean of the New Era Development Research Institute at Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou, China.

NYT