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US President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with Vice-Premier Liu He and the Chinese trade delegation at the Oval Office in the White House. Photo: Bloomberg

Donald Trump launches charm offensive, calling Liu He one of the world’s ‘most respected men’

  • American president makes the remark as two sides signal progress in talks
  • US trade representatives prepare for Beijing mission after three goals are identified

US President Donald Trump proclaimed Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He “one of the most respected men” in the world on Thursday, as both sides signalled progress in two days of trade talks ahead of a March 1 deadline to avert further tariffs.

Trump acknowledged what he called the “tremendous progress” on sticking points such as forced technology transfers and Beijing’s agreement to buy 5 million tonnes of American soybeans before an official deal was reached, a move he described as a “fantastic sign of faith”.

At the White House, Trump said he had a “very, very strong relationship” with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The two leaders are set to meet “maybe once and maybe twice” to iron out the final details of an agreement, the US president said.

The event appeared to reinforce the positive statements released by China and the US after the latest negotiations, with Trump praising Liu as a friend.

‘Without this a deal would be unacceptable!’: Trump makes trade talk demand

“He has become – he is truly one of the most respected men in Asia, one of the most respected men in all of China, and, frankly, one of the most respected men anywhere in the world,” Trump said from his desk, flanked by senior officials including Vice-President Mike Pence, Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Liu, a Harvard-educated economist, sat at the right of Trump’s desk, eschewing the services of an interpreter and speaking slowly in English after the president complimented his “very good English”.

Liu said the sides had developed three key themes in their talks: trade issues, drugs, and enforcement or implementation of policy.

“At the same time, we also discussed something from China,” he said, indicating that Beijing did not want the deal to be purely one-sided. “I hope we will make a deal.”

Lighthizer on Thursday said there would be a “brief pause” in talks during the Lunar New Year holiday, but that a US delegation would head to Beijing in February for follow-up talks.

The English text of a letter from Xi Jinping to Donald Trump is read in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington in the presence of Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He. Photo: Reuters

While Lighthizer said “substantial progress” was made during the latest talks in Washington – with the focus on major structural issues in China’s economy, the protection of US intellectual property, halting forced technology transfers, as well as market access for agriculture and services sectors – he underlined the importance of an enforcement mechanism, but did not elaborate.

Trump said he looked forward to results from Lighthizer’s trip to China in February, noting conversations between both sides would continue, including talks by phone.

“We have a thing called the telephone and other means of talking,” Trump told his trade representative. “So I know you’re spending a lot of time, and it’s moving along well.”

China buys more US soybeans during trade talks

Trump also hailed China’s decision to buy 5 million tonnes of US soybeans, after Beijing bought another 5 million in December following a meeting between the two presidents at the G20 summit in Argentina, where they brokered the truce on tariffs.

In response, Liu said: “Chinese people like US farmers very much.”

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Xi also wrote to Trump – a letter read aloud in the Oval Office on Thursday – urging an “early agreement that works for the interest of both sides”. He also expressed new year greetings to Trump and his family.

“That is a beautiful letter and we appreciate it,” Trump said.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Trump calls He one of world’s ‘most respected men’