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China promises swift action on trade, but mystery still surrounds Trump-Xi agreement

Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

BEIJING -- The few words offered by China's Ministry of Commerce on Wednesday about a deal between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping to temporarily suspend tariff hikes expressed confidence but provided little clarity on just what the two leaders agreed to at a weekend meeting.

"It was a very successful meeting, and we are very confident in the implementation," a Ministry of Commerce spokesman said in comments posted on the agency's website. But the comments offered few hints on what was agreed upon or what would be implemented.

Markets had fallen sharply Tuesday over questions about the two sides' differing versions of the agreement and after Trump went on Twitter to label himself "a Tariff Man." Markets were closed Wednesday in the U.S. to honor the death of President George H.W. Bush.

In an early-morning series of tweets Wednesday, Trump insisted his Saturday meeting with Xi was a success: "Very strong signals being sent by China once they returned home from their long trip, including stops, from Argentina. Not to sound naive or anything, but I believe President Xi meant every word of what he said at our long and hopefully historic meeting. ALL subjects discussed!"

As the leaders met on the sidelines of the G-20 summit, the sides agreed to suspend planned tariff hikes for 90 days to allow negotiation of a substantive trade agreement.

The White House announced that China agreed to reduce and remove 40 percent tariffs on American autos and to immediately increase imports of agricultural and other products.

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All eyes looked to Beijing to confirm the White House account, but the Chinese government has so far been silent on the details. One possible reason for the lack of detail is that Xi has been overseas, completing a state visit in Portugal.

The Ministry of Commerce spokesman said Wednesday that there had been consensus between Trump and Xi on certain issues and that China would move ahead, "the sooner the better," but did not elaborate.

"Both teams will follow a very clear timetable and road map, to actively promote the consultation within 90 days."

A spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry also expressed hopes of a deal to end the trade war.

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