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Trump says relations with China are ‘right back on track’

US President Donald Trump (left) with Chinese  President Xi Jinping at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan.

US President Donald Trump (left) with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan. (AP photo)

OSAKA, Japan (AP) — President Donald Trump declared relations with China were “right back on track” after he and President Xi Jinping sought Saturday to de-escalate a prolonged trade war between the economic powerhouses despite doubts about either’s willingness to compromise.

Taking place on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Japan, the meeting was the centerpiece of four days of diplomacy for Trump, whose re-election chances have been put at risk by the trade war that has hurt American farmers and battered global markets. Tensions rose in recent weeks after negotiations collapsed last month and the two sides levied intensifying eye-for-an-eye punishments. Trump said both nations would issue statements later Saturday about the talks, though officials had telegraphed they expected the leaders to agree to reboot stalled trade negotiations.

At a subsequent meeting with Turkey’s president, Trump said the sit-down with Xi went “probably even better than expected.”

“The negotiations are continuing,” he said.

Seated across a lengthy table flanked by top aides, both leaders struck a cautiously optimistic tone after they greeted each other and posed for photographs.

“We’ve had an excellent relationship,” Trump told Xi as the meeting opened, “but we want to do something that will even it up with respect to trade.”

Xi, for his part, recounted the era of “ping-pong diplomacy” which helped jump-start U.S.-China relations two generations ago. Since then, he said, “one basic fact remains unchanged: China and the United States both benefit from cooperation and lose in confrontation.”

“Cooperation and dialogue are better than friction and confrontation,” he added.

The meeting with Xi is one of three Trump had lined up Saturday with world leaders displaying authoritarian tendencies.

Trump had his first face-to-face sit-down with Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Bin Salman since the U.S. intelligence community concluded that the crown prince directed the grisly murder of Washington Post columnist, and American resident, Jamal Khashoggi last year. Trump also met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an ostensible NATO ally whom the U.S. sees as drifting dangerously toward Russia’s sphere of influence.

Meeting with the Saudi crown prince, Trump praised his “friend” for taking steps to open up the kingdom and extend freedoms to Saudi women.

Trump, however, ignored reporters’ questions about Mohammed’s alleged role in Khashoggi’s death. He has long sought to minimize the crown prince’s role in Khashoggi’s murder, and has been reluctant to criticize the killing of the royal critic at a Saudi consulate in Turkey last year. Trump views the kingdom as the lynchpin of its Middle East strategy to counter Iran. He is also a fan of its pledges to buy U.S. military hardware.

The meeting came a week after Trump pulled back from ordering a military strike on Iran in retaliation for its downing an American unmanned spy plane. Trump is also relying on the Saudi government to support his administration’s elusive Israel-Palestinian peace plan, which is being developed by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

With Erdogan, Trump said the leaders will “look at different solutions” to the Turkey’s planned purchase of the Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile system. U.S. officials have threatened that purchase would halt the sale of the U.S.-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, though Erdogan has called it a done deal.

“Turkey has been a friend of ours,” Trump said. We’ve done great things together.” He blamed the Obama administration for not agreeing to sell U.S.-made Patriot missile batteries to Turkey.

Both of those meetings come the day after Trump, with a smirk and a finger point, dryly told another authoritarian leader, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, “Don’t meddle with the election” in their first meeting since the special counsel concluded that Russia extensively interfered with the 2016 campaign.

The diplomacy plays out as Trump’s re-election campaign battle is beginning to heat up, a contest that could be partially defined by whether a resolution to the trade war with China can be found before more economic pain is inflicted on Americans.

The president has threatened to impose tariffs on an additional $300 billion in Chinese imports — on top of the $250 billion in goods he’s already taxed — extending his import taxes to virtually everything China ships to the United States. He has said the new tariffs, which are paid by U.S. importers and usually passed onto consumers, might start at 10%. Earlier, the administration had said additional tariffs might reach 25%.

The two countries are sparring over the Trump administration’s allegations that Beijing steals technology and coerces foreign companies into handing over trade secrets. China denies it engages in such practices. The U.S. has also tried to rally other nations to block Chinese telecom firm Huawei from their upcoming 5G systems, branding the company a national security threat and barring it from buying American technology.

Beijing has retaliated by levying its own tariffs on goods from the United States. On Friday, it criticized what it calls “negative content” about China in legislation before the U.S. Congress, saying it would further damage relations already roiled by disputes over trade and technology.

Chinese Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said cooperation in important areas would be disrupted if the draft National Defense Authorization Act passes. The bill blocks transfer of sensitive technology to China and prevents Chinese state companies from receiving U.S. federal funds.

But if history repeats itself — and most analysts are betting it will — Trump and Xi will agree to some kind of cease-fire.

Indeed, a senior administration official sought to downplay expectations last week by suggesting that the primary goal for the Trump-Xi meeting is simply an agreement to restart negotiations. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe White House thinking, said the hard work of finalizing the complex details of any broad new accord would come later, when negotiating teams for the two sides meet.

Under the cease-fire scenario, existing tariffs and counter-tariffs on many of each other’s goods would remain in place. But no additional import taxes would take effect. This would buy time for U.S. and Chinese officials to restart talks that stalled last month after 11 rounds of negotiations. Trump said Friday he had not agreed to a cease-fire with Xi as a precondition for their meeting.


Associated Press writers Patrick Quinn in Beijing and Paul Wiseman in Washington contributed to this report.