There is ‘zero’ engagement between US and China as trade tensions escalate, official says


A docker works in front of a container ship at Qingdao Port in Qingdao, Shandong Province of China.

ChinaFotoPress | Getty Images

A docker works in front of a container ship at Qingdao Port in Qingdao, Shandong Province of China.

A senior administration official told CNBC on Friday that there was “zero” engagement between the Trump administration and China as the two countries ratchet up trade tensions.

The official said there had been “one call in the past few days,” and that it resolved nothing. When asked what level of engagement the two countries were maintaining, the official made the shape of a zero with his hand.

The market had jumped earlier in the week on reports that the U.S. and China were re-engaging. While the official acknowledged a high-level phone call had taken place in recent days, he said it had resolved nothing and followed a month-long period of radio silence between the countries.

Earlier in the day, Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, told reporters that there had been communications between the two countries at the “highest levels,” but that talks had “stalled” in recent days.

“I have been involved in a lot of those US-China talks, but not recently, because there haven’t been any recently, I don’t know what they are doing,” Kudlow told reporters on the White House North Lawn.

China threatened to levy tariffs on $60 billion in U.S. goods on Friday if the Trump administration went through with its own planned tariffs on Chinese imports. On Wednesday, Trump ordered his administration to consider raising the proposed tariff on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods to 25 percent. The administration had earlier been considering tariffs of 10 percent.

The official said there was no particular catalyst for the president’s decision to have his administration consider raising the amount of the tariffs, but noted that Trump believes China’s responses to U.S. actions have been “unsatisfactory.”


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