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|US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said the need to make any agreement with China enforceable was 'obvious'. (AFP/Mandel NGAN)|
Chinese Vice Premier Liu He is leading a delegation of 30 officials to Washington for talks on Wednesday and Thursday as the pressure mounts on both sides to reach a deal.
Beijing and Washington have a month remaining in a truce declared in December before US tariffs on hundreds of billions in Chinese exports are due to increase sharply - a prospect economists say could help knock the wind out of an already-faltering global economy.
Mnuchin told reporters he expected "significant progress at these meetings." He will participate in the talks along with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, among others.
While Trump has made the soaring US$336 billion US trade deficit with China a particular focus of his ire, American officials also are demanding far-reaching reforms to Chinese industrial policy to curb the alleged theft of American technological know-how and massive state intervention in commodities markets.
The world's two largest economies last year exchanged tariffs on more than US$360 billion in two-way trade. US duty rates on US$200 billion in Chinese goods are scheduled to increase to 25 per cent from 10 per cent on Mar 2 unless Trump decides otherwise.
The tariffs have weighed on China's slowing economy, which last year posted its weakest performance in 30 years.
Apparently seeking to manage expectations, US officials have alternated between saying the two sides are "miles and miles" from reaching an agreement and projecting optimism that common ground can be reached.
Mnuchin said on Monday that enforcement of any agreement, protection of American intellectual property and an end to the forced joint venture policies as a condition of access to the Chinese market were "three of the most important issues on the agenda."
The need to make any agreement enforceable was "obvious," he said.
"We want to make sure that when we get a deal that that deal will be enforced," Mnuchin said, adding that "there's been an acknowledgement with China that they understand that."
Observers say China is likely to resist making any changes to its "Made in China 2025" industrial strategy and that resolving such complex disagreements is a tall order within the three-month window of the current trade truce.
Released in 2015, the Chinese strategy sets the goal of industrial dominance in sectors such as robotics, artificial intelligence, electric autos and other areas deemed crucial to the future economic success of developed economies.
Trump's aggressive trade strategy sees Beijing's goals as a direct threat to American dominance.
Meanwhile, Washington also unveiled sweeping criminal charges against the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei - an uncomfortable bone of contention between the two partners that has so far involved the arrest of a top company executive in Canada on a US warrant.
As the charges were announced at a separate event from Mnuchin's briefing, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told reporters the two matters were not at all related.
"These indictments are law enforcement actions and are wholly separate from our trade negotiations with China," Ross said.
"Commerce will continue to work with our inter-agency partners to protect US national security interests."