It remains unclear whether the talks can get back on track. An administration official described Mr. Xi’s letter to Mr. Trump as conveying a nice, diplomatic tone, but noted that the word “equality” was included, suggesting that China believes the United States is demanding too much and that a trade agreement must be more equitable. Mr. Xi also said he believed that his friendship with Mr. Trump would endure the trade dispute.
Despite the overture, the administration official said that this round of talks had the dour feeling of heading toward a breakup. There is a growing sense of disappointment in Mr. Xi being unable to follow through on things that Mr. Trump’s trade negotiators thought had been addressed.
Mr. Trump’s decision to impose 25 percent tariffs on nearly one-third of all Chinese products is the biggest trade action that Mr. Trump has taken so far. The higher tax would hit many consumer products that Americans rely on from Beijing, like seafood, luggage and electronics, raising prices for American companies and their customers across a large portion of sectors.
Talks resumed at 5 p.m. Thursday at the offices of the United States trade representative. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, and Robert Lighthizer, Mr. Trump’s top trade negotiator, were expected to have dinner with Liu He, China’s vice premier, and some members of the Chinese delegation. A Trump administration official familiar with the plans said that the meal would not have ceremonial trappings.
Barring any last-minute decision to rescind the tariff increase, the new 25 percent rate will go into effect Friday. But the higher tariffs would hit only products that leave China as of May 10, not those already in transit. That could provide some additional time for the two sides to reach an agreement. Mr. Trump could also rescind the tariffs once a deal is reached, retroactively reversing the higher rates.
“This week is really a challenge if you’ve got boats on the ocean,” said Brian Keare, the field chief information officer at Incorta, who advises companies like Broadcom, Starbucks and Apple on scenario planning amid the uncertainty they face under the Trump administration. “If I’ve got 30 days’ notice, I can make a smarter decision. If I’ve got 72 hours, my hands are more tied.”