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Advisers float Mar-a-lago summit as Trump plots next moves with Xi

Illustration of Trump and Xi at Mar a lago
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Xi may soon come to Mar-a-Lago. President Trump's advisers have informally discussed holding a summit there next month with Chinese President Xi Jinping to try to end the U.S.-China trade war, according to two administration officials with direct knowledge of the internal discussions.

Both officials, who are not authorized to discuss the deliberations, described Trump's club in Palm Beach, Florida, as the "likely" location for the leaders' next meeting, but stressed that nothing is set. The meeting could come as soon as mid-March, these sources said.

  • A third official cautioned that the team has discussed other locations, including Beijing, and that it's premature to say where they'll meet or even whether a meeting is certain to happen.

The big picture: Perhaps the darkest cloud of economic uncertainty hanging over the Trump administration is the status of his trade war with China. Global markets are holding their breaths over the fate of hundreds of billions of dollars of trade.

Behind the scenes: Trump's upcoming meeting with Kim Jong-un in Vietnam has complicated logistics for the Xi summit. Trump wanted to meet with Xi before his tariff ceasefire with China ends on March 1, but three sources with direct knowledge said the events couldn’t be planned so close together.

  • On March 1, Trump must decide whether to ratchet up tariffs from 10% to 25% on some $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. In early December, Trump told Xi he'd bump up those tariffs unless the Chinese showed "progress" on the big structural issues. (Trump hasn't been clear what would satisfy him here.)
  • The Chinese are loath to see the tariffs go up on March 1. Their influential stateside allies — especially on Wall Street — have long helped them sell Washington on promises of reform that never materialize.

The bottom line: It doesn't appear that the U.S. and China have made much progress, so far, on the biggest structural issues that Trump has promised to conquer. These include China's rampant theft of U.S. intellectual property, forced transfer of U.S. technology and trade abuses that China's leaders have used to grow their economy at America’s expense.

  • This week’s Beijing talks with senior officials will focus on enforcement, as the White House China hawks doubt the Chinese will keep any promises.
  • Trump plans to speak to Xi by phone before March 1, according to two administration officials familiar with his thinking. A long-term deal won't come before the two leaders meet.

What to watch: Congressional China hawks are pushing Trump to hold the line on China. The Senate Small Business Committee, which Sen. Marco Rubio chairs, will release a report on Tuesday "laying out the challenges with China’s campaign of industrial espionage and coercion," according to a source with direct knowledge.