WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has suspended its plan to impose sweeping tariffs on China as it presses forward with trade talks, a gesture that will temporarily ease tensions between the two nations but rapidly increase pressure on President Donald Trump to secure the type of tough deal that he has long said is necessary to protect U.S. workers.
Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said Sunday the two countries had made progress as they concluded three days of intense trade negotiations in Washington late last week. The planned tariffs on as much as $150 billion worth of Chinese goods are off the table while the talks proceed, he said.
“We’re putting the trade war on hold,” Mnuchin said on “Fox News Sunday.”
The reprieve came as many crucial details remained undecided, and trade experts warned that the suspension of tariffs could undercut Trump’s leverage and thrust the United States back into the kind of lengthy — and ultimately fruitless — negotiations with China that have bogged down previous administrations.
There are also large and lingering questions about what the United States planned to do with one of its most powerful bargaining chips: the Chinese telecom firm ZTE, which has been crippled by sanctions that prevent it from buying U.S. components.
Trump last week suggested on Twitter that he might rethink the company’s punishment in return for trade concessions.
Warnings from Trump’s national security team and lawmakers about easing up on ZTE — which has been accused of failing to punish employees who violated trade controls against Iran and North Korea — prompted U.S. officials to take a tougher stance on the company in talks. That provoked a less cooperative stance from the Chinese negotiators.
On Sunday, Mnuchin said that the United States was not willing to revisit its penalties on ZTE, which gets a large amount of its semiconductors from Qualcomm, the San Diego-based chipmaker. He said that there had been no “quid pro quo” linking a trade deal to ZTE’s fate, although President Xi Jinping of China had asked Trump to consider offering relief to the company.