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As reported by The Wall Street Journal, this weekend saw mixed messages from the US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer regarding the US-China trade standoff.

Key quotes

“Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday morning that the Trump administration would “put the trade war on hold,” and delay tariffs on Chinese imports to the U.S., while the two countries hammer out details of a deal to reduce the yawning U.S. merchandise trade deficit with China.

And yet, hours later, U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer released a statement that seemed to contradict Mr. Mnuchin. Washington may still resort to tariffs, as well as other tools including investment restrictions and export regulations, unless China makes “real structural change” to its economy, Mr. Lighthizer said.

he contradictory statements from administration officials underscore differences among President Donald Trump’s trade advisers over the negotiating strategy with China, and over how to present that strategy to the public. Mr. Mnuchin and Director of the National Economic Council Larry Kudlow appeared on Sunday morning talk shows to say the talks had been constructive, with Mr. Mnuchin saying they would lead to a “substantial” reduction in China’s trade advantage.

Mr. Lighthizer, by contrast, is known as a tough, thoroughly experienced trade negotiator who has a reputation for holding a hard line. “Real structural change is necessary” on the part of China, Mr. Lighthizer said in his statement. “Nothing less than the future of tens of millions of American jobs is at stake.”

The apparent tensions within the administration follow contentious negotiations in Washington last week between Chinese and U.S. negotiators seeking to address Trump administration concerns over the U.S.’s $375 billion trade deficit with China. The U.S. had demanded China reduce its trade advantage by $200 billion or more. China came to the talks ready to step up purchases of U.S. goods, but refused to agree to a specific dollar amount.

Mr. Mnuchin played down the significance of the Chinese not agreeing to reduce the deficit by $200 billion, saying that the transactions play out company-by-company, not through a single government purchasing decision, and that “ultimately this is about industry being able to have hard contracts and deliver these goods.”