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China trade team still preparing to go for US talks

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Chinese Vice Premier Liu He (C), also a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chief of the Chinese side of the China-U.S. comprehensive economic dialogue, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (L) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin jointly chair the opening ceremony of a new round of high-level economic and trade consultations in Beijing, capital of China, Feb. 14, 2019. Xinhua/Shen Hong

BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China said yesterday that a delegation is still preparing to go to the United States for trade talks, after US President Donald Trump dramatically increased pressure on Beijing to reach a deal, saying he would hike tariffs on Chinese goods this week.

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Mr Trump’s comments on Sunday marked a major escalation in tensions between the world’s largest economies, and a shift in tone from the president, who as recently as Friday had cited progress toward a deal.

Stock markets sank and oil prices tumbled on his remarks, as negotiations to end the months-long trade war were thrown into doubt.

“We are also in the process of understanding the relevant situation. What I can tell you is that China’s team is preparing to go to the United States for the discussions,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a news briefing.

But Mr Geng did not say if Vice Premier Liu He, who is China’s lead official in the negotiations, was to be part of the delegation as originally planned.

“What is of vital importance is that we still hope the United States can work hard with China to meet each other half way, and strive to reach a mutually beneficial, win-win agreement on the basis of mutual respect,” Mr Geng said.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that China was considering cancelling this week’s meetings in Washington in light of Mr Trump’s comments, which took Chinese officials by surprise.

A less than rosy update from US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, including details that China was pulling back from some previous commitments, prompted Mr Trump’s decision.

“The Trade Deal with China continues, but too slowly, as they attempt to renegotiate. No!” Mr Trump said in a tweet.

Mr Trump said tariffs on $200 billion of goods would increase to 25 percent on Friday from 10 percent, reversing a decision he made in February to keep them at the 10 percent rate thanks to progress between the two sides.

The president also said he would target a further $325 billion of Chinese goods with 25 percent tariffs “shortly,” essentially covering all products imported to the United States from China.

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