Chinese President Xi Jinping and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump have tentatively agreed to meet on the sidelines of the G-20 leaders’ summit in Buenos Aires next month, according to a source.
An initial date has been set for Nov. 29, the day before the summit formally gets under way, the person said on condition of anonymity.
If confirmed, it would be the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders in nearly a year and suggest both Washington and Beijing were ready to deescalate the trade tensions.
Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He, one of Xi’s top economic aides, told state media on Friday that Beijing and Washington “are contacting each other at present.”
His comments came as Beijing is trying to shore up investor confidence in its stock market and economy. But the impact of the trade war on Chinese stocks was “more psychological than real,” he said.
Neither the White House nor China’s foreign ministry have released details of the leaders’ schedules for the G-20 summit.
Derek Scissors, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based conservative think tank with close links to the Trump administration, said Trump and Xi “are going to have a meeting unless something happens.”
The U.S. and China “are trying to have a framework coming out of the meeting,” he said, without saying where he got his information.
He said he did not know how comprehensive the framework would be, but a short-term deal could be finalized in months.
“I don’t think the U.S. could credibly promise we will not take any action against China before the election,” he said, referring to possible changes before the midterm election. “I don’t think anyone would believe that.”
News of a potential meeting between Xi and Trump comes amid growing hostilities between U.S. and China on a range of issues other than the trade war, including the South China Sea, Taiwan, Xinjiang and allegations of espionage.
Zhao Quansheng, director of the Centre for Asian Studies at American University in Washington, said in Beijing that Trump needed a chance to “declare victory” in the trade war to the American people, while China would find it easier to compromise on trade rather than on more sensitive issues like Taiwan.
“If the U.S. continues to provoke China on the Taiwan issue, it may overstep Beijing’s bottom line and that could lead to an actual skirmish,” he said. “China needs to make its position very clear.”
While official talks between Beijing and Washington have been on hold because of the trade tensions, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and China’s central bank governor Yi Gang agreed that Beijing would not engage in competitive devaluation of its currency to support its exporters.
Similarly, the Treasury Department has refrained from labeling China a currency manipulator.
He Weiwen, a senior fellow at the Centre for China and Globalization in Beijing a former economic adviser at the Chinese consulates in New York and San Francisco, said China and the U.S. needed to “create conditions” for a leaders’ meeting to take place during the G-20 summit in Argentina.
In the best scenario, “both sides will refrain from launching any new punitive measures before the summit” so that the Xi-Trump talks could go ahead, he said.
A Chinese government official, who declined to be named, said that the timing of the proposed meeting worked well for both leaders as by late November they would have settled their domestic agendas. The U.S. midterm elections are set for Nov. 6 while China has several events planned in the coming weeks to mark the 40th anniversary of its reform and opening up.
The G-20 summit in Buenos Aires will be the last multilateral event of the year that both Trump and Xi will attend. The White House earlier canceled Trump’s planned trip to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation scheduled for Nov. 17-18 in Papua New Guinea.