US hopes China to undo backtracking on trade: official

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross downplayed a news report Trump was considering firing him (AFP Photo/ALEX WONG)

US officials hope China will reverse its decision to backtrack on commitments it made in the effort to settle the ongoing trade conflict, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Wednesday.

US and Chinese officials held high-level discussions by telephone this week and last as they try to re-start negotiations. The talks collapsed in May after Washington accused Beijing of reneging on core issues it had agreed to earlier this year.

"This is a long, involved process. The fundamental question now, though, is will they go back to the point where they were before they changed their mind?" Ross told Fox Business Network on Wednesday.

"That's the important issue right now, and that's what's being probed in telephone conversations."

At a meeting in Japan last month, US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping agreed to cease further hostilities in the year-long trade war while the two sides worked to revive negotiations.

The countries have imposed tariffs on $360 billion in two-way trade, and Trump has threatened even more punishing duties on Chinese goods.

A face-to-face negotiating session in Beijing could be scheduled if sufficient progress occurs during telephone conversations, US officials said this week.

Washington accuses Beijing of massive intervention in markets and the theft of intellectual property, while putting roadblocks in the way of US companies seeking to operate in the massive Chinese market.

Since last year, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have led the trade talks, while Ross has been on the sidelines.

But Ross downplayed an NBC News report of earlier this week that Trump was weighing whether to fire him following the failed effort to add a question on citizenship to next year's decennial population census.

"I was in a trip with the president last Friday. We were in Milwaukee, we were in Cleveland. I was at the cabinet meeting, of course, yesterday and here I am on TV today," he told Fox Business.

"I think you ought to go by facts, not by rumors on some other network."