China will send a senior negotiator to the United States in late August to resume trade talks, its commerce ministry said Thursday, the first public meeting on the dispute in weeks as the trade conflict intensifies.
Beijing and Washington have slapped tariffs on tens of billions of dollars worth of each other's goods since they held their last high-level meeting in June, raising fears that the trade war could shake the global economy.
At the invitation of the United States, a delegation led by Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen, the deputy representative on international trade negotiations, will meet with a team led by senior US treasury official David Malpass, the ministry said in a statement.
"The Chinese side reiterates that it opposes unilateralism and trade protectionism practices and does not accept any unilateral trade restriction measures," the ministry said.
"China welcomes dialogue and communication on the basis of reciprocity, equality and integrity."
White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow confirmed the meeting and said, "I just think this is a good thing. It's better to talk than not talk."
"We haven't had a sit-down with the Chinese either at the top level or the intermediate level in quite some time," he said on CNBC.
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross held talks with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He in Beijing in June. Liu had met with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in Washington a month earlier.
The White House previously said it would not hold talks unless Beijing was willing to offer a deal to reduce the US trade deficit but Kudlow declined to say whether there was a deal under discussion.
But he said the Chinese government "must not underestimate President Trump's toughness and willingness to continue this battle."
- Tit-for-tat -
Talks in June failed to reduce tensions as the United States slapped tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods in early July, triggering an immediate dollar-for-dollar retaliation from Beijing.
The two countries are expected to launch a new round of tit-for-tat tariffs on $16 billion worth of goods from each country on August 23.
Washington has also lined up an additional $200 billion in Chinese imports and US President Donald Trump said he could raise tariffs on those products to 25 percent instead of the previously planned 10 percent. Those could take effect as soon as September.
China responded by threatening in early August to impose new tariffs on $60 billion worth of US goods.
"It is hard to tell how the talks will go but it's a positive signal that the two countries are looking for some compromise plan," said Makoto Sengoku, market analyst at Tokai Tokyo Research Institute.
"If they were determined to fight it out, they wouldn't meet," he told AFP.
Larry Hu, head of greater China economics at the Macquarie Group, said the two sides may discuss what Beijing needs to do, such as increasing US imports, further opening its markets and making efforts to protect US intellectual property rights.
Depending on actions taken by China, the US side may discuss what it can do to temporarily prevent an escalation of the trade war, Hu said.
"I think we are still at an ice breaking stage, the two sides are testing each other's bottom line," he said, noting that it will be a lower-level meeting than the previous talks.
- 'Generally controllable' -
The yuan has declined in recent weeks, helping Chinese exporters as it makes their products cheaper, but it could fuel tensions with Trump, who has accused Beijing of manipulating its currency.
Meanwhile the dollar has been strengthening, in part due to rising US interest rates. Trump touted that in a tweet Thursday, even though a stronger dollar hurts US exports.
"Our Economy is doing better than ever. Money is pouring into our cherished DOLLAR like rarely before..." he said on Twitter.
Chinese officials say the tariffs have yet to make an impact on the country's economy, with its exports even beating forecasts in July.
The threatened tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods could have "some direct impact" on industrial production, employment, foreign trade and commodity prices, but "the overall impact is generally controllable," Cong Liang, spokesman at the National Development and Reform Commission, told reporters on Wednesday.
But analysts warned that China could feel the full effect of tariffs in August.
Trump has boasted that trade wars are "easy to win" and warned he would hit virtually all Chinese imports if Beijing does not back down and take steps to reduce its $335 billion surplus with the United States.
China does not import enough from the United States to match Washington dollar-for-dollar, but it has warned that it could fire back with other measures.