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China trade talks wrap up, with outcome unclear: U.S

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Uncertainty over the outcome of China-U.S. trade talks cast a pall on Thursday over Asian markets as both sides kept mum about what lies ahead.

Most Asian markets opened lower after the talks wrapped up the day before without clear indications of whether progress was made on resolving a dispute over Chinese technology policies that has the world’s two biggest economies embroiled in a bruising trade war.

The three-day talks that started on Monday were the first face-to-face meetings since Mr. Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, agreed Dec. 1 to suspend further action against each other’s imports for 90 days while they negotiate over U.S. complaints that Beijing steals or pressures companies to hand over technology.

The Chinese Ministry of Commerce issued a statement saying the two sides had “detailed exchanges” and would “maintain close contact” but gave no details.

A statement from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative didn’t characterize the tone of the talks or say what would happen next. It said U.S. negotiators would await “guidance on the next steps” after reporting back to Washington.

So far, the U.S. side has described the exchanges in a positive light.

Mr. Trump said late Tuesday on Twitter that the talks were “going very well!” On Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the Fox Business Network, “We’re optimistic.” She added, “we expect that something will come of this. I don’t know the timing and exactly what that will look like, but what I can be sure of is that we are moving towards a more balanced and reciprocal trade agreement with China.”

Still, the U.S. statement said the negotiations dealt with the need for any deal with China to be “subject to ongoing verification and effective enforcement” a comment that reflects U.S. frustration that the Chinese have failed to live up to past commitments.

The USTR also said the negotiations “focused on China’s pledge to purchase a substantial amount of agricultural, energy, manufactured goods and other products and services from the United States.” Mr. Trump has complained repeatedly about the U.S. trade deficit with China, which last year likely exceeded the 2017 gap of $336 billion.

U.S. companies also want action on Chinese policies they complain improperly favor local companies. Those include subsidies and other favors for high-tech and state-owned industry, rules on technology licensing and preferential treatment of domestic suppliers in government procurement.

For its part, Beijing is unhappy with U.S. export and investment curbs, such as controls on “dual use” technology with possible military applications. They say China’s companies are treated unfairly in national security reviews of proposed corporate acquisitions, though almost all deals are approved unchanged.
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