Chinese President’s Top Economic Adviser Heads to U.S. Next Week


BEIJING—President Xi Jinping’s most trusted economic adviser is heading to Washington on Tuesday as a main envoy for the U.S.-China relationship, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Liu He, director of the Office of the Central Leading Group for Financial and Economic Affairs, is taking the trip at a time of rising trade tensions between the two nations. The people said the U.S. extended an invitation to Mr. Liu via its embassy in Beijing shortly before the weeklong Lunar New Year holiday that just concluded.

Meanwhile, President Xi will hold a high-level meeting with top Communist Party officials to decide on key government posts, according to the people familiar with the matter. That meeting will run Monday through Wednesday, ahead of the annual legislative session, which starts March 5.

It isn’t clear who Mr. Liu will meet in Washington. His trip comes as the Trump administration is readying a tougher economic policy against China to address what Washington calls China’s unfair trade practices that contributed to the U.S.’s record trade deficit with the world’s second-largest economy last year.

A White House spokeswoman declined to comment Friday, saying, “we have no scheduling update at this time.”

The U.S. fired its first trade warning in January by slapping new tariffs on imported Chinese solar panels. Early this month, China responded by launching an anti-dumping and antisubsidy investigation into sorghum imports from the U.S.

Chinese officials have said the U.S. is in danger of starting a trade war, while some U.S. officials have expressed to Beijing concerns over its tit-for-tat measures. “Nobody wants a trade war,” said a person with knowledge of the exchanges between the two sides.

Former and current U.S. officials have described Mr. Liu, the chief architect of China’s economic policy in the past few years, as forthcoming and assertive in their meetings with him. His coming trip was first reported by U.S. news website Axios. Mr. Liu is expected to be back in Beijing late next week, ahead of the opening of the annual legislative session, the people said.

Mr. Liu’s Washington visit follows one earlier in the month by Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat. “It’s nearly unprecedented that within four weeks, the Chinese would send two members of the Politburo,” said

Evan Medeiros,

the top White House China official in the Obama administration. “Clearly the Chinese are scrambling to find a solution,” added Mr. Medeiros, now a managing director at the Eurasia Group consultancy.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Mr. Xi is also bringing in another senior official to deal with Washington, Wang Qishan, who ran the leader’s anticorruption campaign over the past five years. Mr. Wang is expected to be named the country’s vice president during the legislative session.

Mr. Xi’s convening of several hundred top officials from across the country is the leader’s latest break with Communist Party tradition.

After a meeting just last month to approve constitutional amendments, the third meeting of the party’s Central Committee, dubbed the Third Plenum, traditionally would have taken place in the fall.

Since the Deng Xiaoping era, Chinese leaders have held their third plenums in the fall, a year into their five-year term, and used them to lay out major economic reforms. Mr. Xi is instead squeezing the meeting into the brief window between the Lunar New Year holiday and the annual legislative session.

“The takeaway is that he disregards tradition and just sets his own rules,” said China politics scholar

Willy Lam

at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The plenum next week will likely result in promotions for his confidants, such as Mr. Liu, seen as the front-runner for a number of key economic posts.

Write to Lingling Wei at [email protected]

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