President Donald Trump said he won’t meet Chinese President Xi Jinping
President Donald Trump said he won’t meet Chinese President Xi Jinping before March 1st.

President Donald Trump said he won’t meet Chinese President Xi Jinping before a March 1 deadline to avert higher U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods, intensifying fears the two won’t strike a deal before the end of a 90-day truce.

Trump responded “No” and shook his head Thursday when reporters at the White House asked him if he would meet with Xi this month. Then he added, “Unlikely.” But the U.S. president said the two would “maybe” meet later.

Trump told reporters last month that he planned to meet Xi in late February, adding there was a “good chance” of striking a deal.

Time is running out for the U.S. and China to reach an agreement before the deadline the Trump administration has set to more than double tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods. While the U.S. has said it’s a hard deadline for the tariffs, Trump has also suggested he could agree to extend negotiations beyond month’s end if progress is being made.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are leading a group of administration officials headed to Beijing next week as part of the trade talks. Lighthizer told reporters last week that it was not certain a deal could be reached.

One senior administration official said the decision not to go ahead with a meeting between Xi and Trump before March 1 should not be read as a sign the talks were breaking down. Rather it was due to the amount of work that still needed to be done by negotiators. The two leaders could also speak by phone, the official said.

There’s growing concern among White House officials that Trump could agree to a cosmetic deal that wouldn’t address core issues like China’s alleged intellectual property theft, according to a person familiar with the talks. But the president and other senior administration officials have publicly and privately stated the negotiations are going well and that the two sides are continuing to bridge their differences at every round of talks.

Next Steps

In a meeting at the White House Wednesday, Trump’s trade team discussed the next steps for the trade talks, according to a person briefed on the matter. Lighthizer and Mnuchin don’t have a mandate to bring back a draft deal from their Beijing trip, the person said.

The president is headed to Asia to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam Feb. 27 and Feb. 28.

A delay in the meeting between Trump and Xi isn’t a deal breaker, says Derek Scissors, a China expert at the American Enterprise Institute.

“Trump meeting Xi makes it more likely any deal will last. When it was agreed that they would meet, it was known at the time that it would be hard to match schedules before March 2,” Scissors said. “By itself, a delay until after March 2 is not a threat to the chances of a deal.”

Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow said earlier at the White House that a Trump-Xi summit was “off in the distance” but that he remained confident the two leaders would still meet at some point.

Kudlow added that he had a “good vibe” about ongoing talks, and said that he saw all trade issues between the two countries as potential topics for discussion. Still, he declined to say whether he expected negotiators to strike a deal before the end of the month, when Trump has said he will raise tariffs from 10 percent to 25 percent on $200 billion in Chinese goods.