WASHINGTON — President Trump defended his administration’s approach to resolving a trade war with China in a series of tweets Monday, following three-days of negotiations with the Chinese that ended with little clarity.
Mr. Trump, in an early morning tweet, initially questioned why Democrats and the previous administration did not “do something about Trade with China” before touting his administration’s ability to get the Chinese to make concessions.
“On China, Barriers and Tariffs to come down for first time,” he wrote on Monday, following up with another tweet declaring: “Under our potential deal with China, they will purchase from our Great American Farmers practically as much as our Farmers can produce.”
However, much remains unresolved, including how much — and what — the Chinese will actually agree to purchase and whether the country will make other changes that the administration has been pushing for, such as relaxing restrictions on American companies operating in China.
After three days of talks that concluded on Saturday, China and the United States issued a vague joint statement saying that China would increase its purchase of American goods and services and that talks would continue in China to flesh out the details. On Monday, administration officials fanned out on TV to talk up the state of trade negotiations but acknowledged much remains up in the air and undecided.
On Monday, Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary who led the talks, said that he was optimistic that America’s trade dispute with China could be resolved and said that the task now was to turn the agreements that they have reached in principle into a binding pact.
“I think we’ve made very meaningful progress and now it’s up to both of us to make sure that we can implement it,” Mr. Mnuchin said on CNBC.
Wilbur Ross, the Commerce secretary, described the talks as a “framework” that is “kind of at the 40,000-foot level. This is not a definitive agreement. This what we hope will be a path forward. If it doesn’t work, the tariffs will go into effect. So nothing’s been lost at all.”
Since the meetings concluded, the Trump administration has appeared to offer mixed messages about the status of the discussions and whether China had actually agreed to buy an additional $ 200 billion of American products to reduce the trade deficit, as administration officials had previously indicated. Both countries have agreed to suspend new tariffs while the talks proceed.
Mr. Mnuchin pushed back against the suggestion that the economic team was not aligned, saying that he, Mr. Ross and Robert Lighthizer, the United States trade representative, are on the same page.
The Treasury secretary also downplayed reports that he and Peter Navarro, Mr. Trump’s trade adviser, engaged in a profanity-laced argument during their trip to China earlier this month.
“Peter has been an important part of the team,” Mr. Mnuchin said of Mr. Navarro, a longtime China critic who has been pushing internally for the United States to take a tougher approach.
Other members of Mr. Trump’s economic team attempted to portray the state of the discussions in a positive light.
Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, described the joint statement that China and the United States issued as akin to a peace treaty and predicted that a significant deal was within reach.
Mr. Kudlow, speaking on CNBC, said that China appeared amenable to opening its market to American financial companies and said he was optimistic that China would allow foreign companies to have majority stakes in their business operations there.
The pace of talks remains unclear and the Trump administration has been careful to avoid hard deadlines for a breakthrough. Mr. Kudlow said that Mr. Ross would soon be heading back to China to work out details of an agreement to boost American agricultural exports. He suggested that American farms could double their sales to China if given broader access to its market.
The administration has been sensitive to criticism that it is softening its position on China by suspending tariffs. Mr. Ross said in an interview on the Fox Business Network that the United States was ready to unleash the tariffs if need be.
“You can’t be tariffing people at the same exact time that you’re negotiating a detailed arrangement with them,” Mr. Ross said, while describing them as a cocked pistol. “It’s ready to be fired whenever it needs to be fired.”
Putting the tariffs on hold is intended to temporarily ease tensions between the two nations during the trade talks.
Mr. Trump has said he will negotiate a tough deal with China in order to protect American workers. Trade experts cautioned that this suspension of tariffs could hurt the president’s leverage in ongoing talks with China. Such talks in previous administrations have been slowed by lengthy negotiations.
Mr. Trump said on Monday that China agreed to purchase “massive amounts” of American agriculture products.
The president also warned China that it needs to be “strong and tight” on the border of North Korea while negotiations are in progress.
The recent talks have left unclear what the Trump administration plans to do with the Chinese telecom firm, ZTE, which has been accused of not punishing employees who violated trade controls against Iran and North Korea. The company has suffered since the United States prevented it from purchasing American components. Last week, Mr. Trump said he would rethink ZTE’s punishment in exchange for trade concessions.
On Sunday, Mr. Mnuchin said the president was not “going easy” on China with regard to ZTE. He said the president wanted to be tough on the company and that the tariffs could be reinstated if the trade talks collapse. The Treasury Department is supposed to send recommendations to the White House this week regarding restrictions on Chinese investment.