Chinese Vice Premier Liu He. (Photographer: Nelson Ching/Bloomberg)

Xi’s Top Trade Official Unexpectedly Attended China-U.S. Talks

(Bloomberg) -- Chinese Vice Premier Liu He unexpectedly attended the first day of talks aimed at resolving the trade dispute between the world’s two biggest economies, according to people familiar with the matter and a photo seen by Bloomberg.

Liu is the top economic adviser to Chinese President Xi Jinping, who led previous negotiations in Washington that produced a deal that President Donald Trump then repudiated. China had previously said the talks would be led by a lower-ranking official from the Ministry of Commerce.

Xi’s Top Trade Official Unexpectedly Attended China-U.S. Talks

It’s unclear how long Liu stayed, or what he discussed. The Ministry of Commerce didn’t immediately respond to a fax seeking comment on Liu’s appearance. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is expected to meet with Liu later this month, a person familiar with the situation said last week.

Liu’s participation in the meeting, held at the ministry’s premises, signals that China is attaching high importance to the talks, even if the main participants this time are mid-level officials. While markets have rallied the past few sessions, a wider downturn over the past month and a deepening economic slowdown are increasing pressure for a deal.

Xi’s Top Trade Official Unexpectedly Attended China-U.S. Talks

The talks are the first face-to-face interactions between the U.S. and China since both presidents met in Argentina and agreed a temporary truce in their tit-for-tat tariff war. More senior-level discussions are expected later this month, with the South China Morning Post reporting that Trump and Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan may meet at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

China’s foreign ministry on Monday confirmed that Wang would deliver a keynote speech at Davos. Lu Kang, a spokesman for the ministry, told reporters he’s unaware of any plans for Wang to meet Trump. He also said he had no further information on this week’s trade talks.

The American delegation in Beijing is being led by Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Jeffrey Gerrish. Preliminary discussions were “a little more optimistic than usual,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told Bloomberg TV Friday.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.