Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Liu He, China’s vice premier attends a news conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on Tuesday, March 20, 2018.

The deficit depends on who is buying what and is not entirely within their control, and he pointed out that the U.S. economy is improving. “When Americans get higher income, they purchase more products. And most are from China,” he said. “So it is hard to understand their logic.”

At a conference in Tokyo, the U.S. ambassador to China, Terry Branstad, said the two sides are “very far apart.” The ambassador, who has been engaged in trade discussions, said the Trump administration wants the Chinese to give a timetable on how China will open up its markets to U.S. products. Branstad said boosting the sale of liquefied natural gas would be on the table, and he said the U.S. would consider rescinding tariffs if China opened up its markets for autos and especially food.

The Chinese official would not reveal what China would offer, but, like Branstad, he acknowledged a wide divide between the U.S. and China.

“The gap is so big,” he said. However, he added, the Chinese are willing to talk about everything.

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