U.S. Wrangles China for Firm Commitments as Trade Talks Continue

In recent weeks, Mr. Trump has signaled that he is growing tired of the grinding pace of the negotiations, the infighting among his economic advisers and the increasing calls from rich Republican donors to wind down the trade dispute with China, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. Despite his desire to cut a deal quickly, increasing criticism from Democrats about being soft on China has pushed Mr. Trump to consider extending the talks in hopes of getting more concessions.

The tone of the negotiations between the two nations has grown more stern, this person said. In recent meetings, Chinese officials have pushed back more aggressively against the administration’s accusations that China has engaged in a pattern of illegally obtaining American technology and information and that it has failed to make any changes the United States has called for.

American officials have come to realize that China has been repackaging promised reforms and trying to sell them as concessions to Mr. Trump. This has caused deep frustration among the administration’s China hard-liners, including Mr. Navarro and Mr. Lighthizer, who have been skeptical that China will actually agree to new, substantive commitments.

In the run-up to this week’s meeting, both sides have tried to begin formalizing the framework of an agreement around six memorandums of understanding. However, a detailed draft text of an agreement has not yet been written.

“The Chinese are playing for an extension,” said Michael Pillsbury, a Hudson Institute scholar who advises the Trump administration and speaks regularly with Chinese officials. “That’s one of their top goals right now.”

Mr. Pillsbury said that despite Mr. Trump’s hints about extending the deadline, they are expecting he will follow through on his “tariff man” instincts and raise levies on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods on March 2. He said he believes that China has prepared a package of structural concessions to offer the United States after those tariffs are increased in an effort to get all the tariffs rolled back.

The administration has been searching for concrete, commercially based criteria for performance outcomes — not just superficial legal changes that leave no impact on the ground. For example, even though China has changed laws to allow foreign companies greater access to its markets, a variety of regulatory barriers and licensing requirements continue to prevent foreign companies from operating freely, said Scott Kennedy, a China scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.