BEIJING – Hopes this week's meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the G20 in Argentina will achieve a trade breakthrough are fading with analysts and business leaders expressing disappointment over intensifying tensions in the lead up to the summit.
The high-stakes encounter between the two leaders in Buenos Aires is seen as the last ray of hope that Beijing and Washington will resolve trade differences and avert additional US tariffs on Chinese exports in the new year.
So Henry Wang, president of the Beijing-based think-tank Center for China and Globalization, was surprised when last week US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer released a statement saying China had failed to alter "unfair, unreasonable, and market-distorting practices".
"It's not appropriate to publish this negative report prior to the summit. It's not conducive to constructive dialogue, and it just doesn't look good," said Wang.
The findings are part of an update of the US Trade Representative's "Section 301" investigation into China's intellectual property and technology transfer policies.
"They give the impression that things aren't well coordinated," said Wang.
"President Trump says something, Lighthizer says something different, and so does [economic adviser Larry] Kudlow etc. China has maintained a message of wanting to seek dialogue and resolve the issue. That should be the attitude on both sides."
Officials in Beijing have gone on the offensive with China's Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng telling reporters on Friday the Trump administration had made "totally unacceptable" and "groundless" new accusations against the Chinese side.
The ministry is also assessing the potential effect from a separate US proposal to tighten control over technology exports, saying it would take the necessary steps to protect the interests of Chinese firms.
"These moves by the US are only diminishing trust," said Liu Zhiqin, a senior fellow at Renmin University's Global Governance Research Center.
"Right now the US has no trust in China and unfortunately many in China now are doubting the sincerity of the Trump administration in wanting to reach a real solution. Does Trump really want to improve our trade relationship, or is China just part of his political sideshow?"
This mutual mistrust was on show on Wednesday at a World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Geneva, where envoys from China and US accused each other of hypocrisy and flouting WTO rules.
Deputy Trade Representative of the US and WTO Ambassador Dennis Shea said China was using the world trade body to promote "nonmarket policies", while a Chinese representative said Washington was only blaming Beijing to disguise its own violations of rules.