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Trade negotiators hold talks ahead of Xi-Trump meeting

Vice Premier Liu He - Xi Jinping's point man in the trade war - spoke with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday.

FILE: China's President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump attend a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on 9 November 2017. Picture: AFP

BEIJING, China - Top Chinese and US trade negotiators have held telephone talks ahead of a crunch meeting between presidents Xi Jinping and Donald Trump at the G20 summit this week, Chinese state media said Tuesday.

Vice Premier Liu He -- Xi's point man in the trade war -- spoke with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday and they "exchanged opinions on economic and trade issues," according to the official Xinhua news agency.

The call took place "at the request of the US side" and the officials agreed to continue to maintain contact, Xinhua said.

Trump's highly anticipated meeting with Xi will take place on Saturday, the second day of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, according to a US official.

The two leaders agreed to meet after negotiations broke down last month and both sides exchanged steep increases in tariffs on $260 billion in two-way trade.

Trump has since moved to blacklist China's top telecommunications company, Huawei. Beijing has responded by threatening to create its own list of "unreliable" companies and individuals.

**'UPHOLD MULTILATERALISM' **

Chinese officials said Monday that they will seek a united front against protectionism at the G20.

"Unilateralism and protectionism has damaged global growth... undermined global value chains and dampened market sentiment," Zhang Jun, the Chinese assistant minister of foreign affairs, said at a briefing to preview Xi's attendance at the summit.

"China will work with others at the G20 to firmly uphold multilateralism and an open, rule-based global trading order," Zhang said.

Trump has instigated trade battles with an array of countries and regions, from China to Japan, Mexico and the European Union, but Beijing's own economic policies have been criticised.

The US and the EU have accused Beijing of providing a lack of level playing field for foreign firms in China, allowing the theft of intellectual property and forcing international companies to hand their trade secrets to local partners.

Chinese vice minister for commerce Wang Shouwen said Monday that Washington and Beijing should make compromises.

Any talks between China and the US have to be based on "mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit and comply with WTO rules", Wang said.

He also urged the US to remove "inappropriate and discriminatory" barriers against Chinese companies, saying such moves jeopardise the interests of both Chinese and US firms -- an oblique reference to the US treatment of Huawei.

American officials have accused their Chinese counterparts of backsliding on commitments made in the talks, but Lighthizer said last week he was hopeful the discussions could resume productively.

"My speculation is that some forces in China decided that they had gone too far, went out beyond their mandate," he said. "I have trust and complete good faith in the people that I'm dealing with... My hope is we can get back on track."

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