Washington and Beijing are heading for a make-or-break meeting as Trump threatens to hit nearly every Chinese import with tariffs

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Eugene Hoshiko/Getty Images; Reuters

  • President Donald Trump is set to sit down with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a multilateral summit in Japan on Saturday, June 29.
  • The meeting marks a last-ditch attempt to avoid planned escalations in a sprawling trade war between the largest economies.
  • Trump has said punishing tariffs on nearly all remaining imports from China would take effect if no progress was made during the two-day G20 summit in Osaka.
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President Donald Trump is set to sit down with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a multilateral summit in Japan on Saturday. It will mark a last-ditch attempt to avoid planned escalations in a sprawling trade war between the largest economies.

Trump has said punishing tariffs on nearly all remaining imports from China would take effect if no progress was made during the two-day G20 summit in Osaka that begins Friday, June 28. In recent days, he has swung between expressing optimism toward the meeting and doubling down on threats for further escalation.

“My plan B is that if we don’t make a deal, I will tariff – and maybe not at 25% but maybe at 10% – but I will tariff the rest of the $600 billion that we’re talking about,” he said Wednesday on Fox Business Network.

The Trump administration has already targeted $250 billion worth of Chinese products since a 2018 investigation into trade practices seen as unfair, such as large-scale state subsidies and the forced transfer of foreign technology. China has since retaliated with its own tariffs on $110 billion worth of American imports.

Saturday would mark the first meeting between Trump and Xi since November, but few expect a breakthrough and instead view the meeting as a potential opportunity to restart talks. Nearly a dozen rounds of cabinet-level trade negotiations fell apart last month after the US said China reneged on nearly all of its commitments.

“Even as trade frictions persist, he’s got the opportunity to see where the Chinese side is since the talks last left off,” a senior administration official said of Trump. “But again, the president is quite comfortable with any outcome.”

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The meeting will come at a pivotal time for Trump, whose trade policies with China and US allies have threatened to upend what is set to become the longest economic expansion in history next week.

Hundreds of business and industry representatives have testified before the US Trade Representative to warn that further tariffs would act as a tax on Americans and put domestic jobs at risk. Economists say further escalation would be especially significant because they would hit mostly consumer products, such as cellphones and clothing.

While Trump has found bipartisan support in his calls to address any trade imbalances with China, tariffs have drawn backlash from Republican lawmakers and key constituents ahead of the 2020 elections. Research suggests that GOP counties have been hit especially hard by the yearlong dispute between the US and China.

The Trump administration has sought to soften the blow dealt to farmers, who have been hit by steep retaliatory tariffs on agricultural exports to China. In May, the Agriculture Department more than doubled the size of its bailout program for producers of soybeans and other farm products.

The stakes are also high for Xi, who will face a dilemma between bending to demands from the largest economy and maintaining a tough appearance at home. Tariffs have only added to strains on the Chinese economy, which posted its slowest pace of growth in more than a quarter century in 2018.

Trump is expected to hold various other meetings at the G20 summit, including with leaders from Australia, Japan, India, Germany, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

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