WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Thursday that he would not meet this month with President Xi Jinping of China, raising new concerns that the United States will not be able to complete a trade deal with China before American tariffs increase on March 2.
The decision not to meet ahead of the deadline was a reversal for Mr. Trump, who said last week that he planned to meet with Mr. Xi to resolve any “final issues” before a trade deal. Mr. Trump, who made the comments during two days of negotiations between American and Chinese trade officials, suggested a face-to-face meeting could be combined with his trip to Asia in late February for a summit meeting with Kim Jong-un of North Korea.
On Thursday, Mr. Trump ruled out such a meeting before the March deadline. Asked by reporters if the meeting with Mr. Xi would take place in the next month or so, Mr. Trump said: “Maybe. Probably too soon.” As to whether the two leaders would meet before the deadline, Mr. Trump said, “no” and nodded his head.
The United States has threatened to increase tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods to 25 percent from 10 percent if a deal is not reached by March 2. Such an escalation would raise prices for companies and consumers on products imported from China and could incite additional retaliation from China, further ratcheting up a trade war that has already begun to inflict economic damage in both countries.
Both Mr. Trump and his top trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, have said that the March 2 deadline is a firm date and that the United States will not extend the timeline, which Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi agreed uponduring a dinner in Buenos Aires last year.
But a senior administration official suggested on Thursday that, if talks continued to be constructive this month, it was possible that the president could change his mind and offer an extension. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it was also possible that a deal could be reached without Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi meeting in person, with final details worked out by phone or video conference.