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US team in Beijing for trade talks

Washington and Beijing have been vying for influence in the region, which hosts potential flashpoints such as the South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula and the Taiwan Strait (AFP Photo/FRED DUFOUR)

US negotiators were in Beijing on Monday for another round of talks on a trade deal with the clock ticking towards a March 1 deadline set by President Donald Trump.

Preliminary discussions by lower-level officials were to be held, before US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin step in for the main event on Thursday and Friday.

Washington suspended plans in December to increase tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports -- to 25 percent from the current 10 percent -- to give negotiators space to resolve a trade spat that has triggered fears of a global economic slowdown.

A previous round of talks in Washington last month ended without a deal.

Deputy trade representative Jeffrey Gerrish would lead the US delegation in preparatory meetings to begin on Monday, the White House has said.

The talks will include officials from the agriculture, energy and commerce departments.

Gerrish left his hotel in downtown Beijing on Monday morning without talking to the media.

Mnuchin and Lighthizer will be joined by David Malpass, Trump's nominee for president of the World Bank.

The Chinese delegation will be led by Vice Premier Liu He, who will be joined by central bank governor Yi Gang.

Liu, China's chief trade negotiator, met last month with Trump, who announced that a final resolution of the trade dispute would depend on a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping "in the near future."

But Trump said Thursday he did not expect to meet his Chinese counterpart before the trade truce expires on March 1.

The Trump administration is demanding far-reaching changes from China to address commercial practices that it says are deeply unfair, including theft of American intellectual property and myriad barriers that US and other foreign companies face in the Chinese domestic market.