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China pledges 'tremendous' US soy purchases

China has pledged to increase its purchases of US soybeans, as the two countries attempt to hammer out a trade deal.

US President Donald Trump touted the promise, made at the end of two days of talks in Washington, as evidence that the two sides were making progress.

"Before we make a deal, it's a fantastic sign of faith," he said,

In a letter shared by the White House, Chinese President Xi Jinping also said the two sides had made "good progress".

At a press conference with Vice Premier Liu He on Thursday, Mr Trump said he hoped to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping to hash out a final agreement by the 1 March deadline.

He also said he planned to send US officials to China for another round of talks.

"We have made tremendous progress," he said.

"That doesn't mean you're going to have a deal but there's a tremendous relationship and a warm feeling."

Is this progress?

In December, the US and China agreed to 90 days of negotiations, in an effort to defuse their escalating trade war, which had led to new tariffs on billions of dollars worth of goods.

Shortly after, China - by far the world's biggest importer of soybeans - bought 1.13 million tonnes of the crop from the US.

The White House said on Thursday the country had agreed to purchase an additional 5 million tonnes - a promise Mr Trump described as "tremendous".

China imported more than 30 million tonnes of soybeans in 2017 - a figure that dropped sharply last year amid the trade war.

However, the US has also pressed for change on issues such as the theft of trade secrets and rules that limit the operations of foreign companies.

Officials said those issues were discussed, but did not provide details.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said he is focused on securing a deal that can be enforced. He warned that many issues remained unresolved.

"We've made progress," he said. "At this point, it's impossible for me to predict success but we are in a place that, if things work, it could happen."

Are the two sides moving to a deal anyway?

The tensions between the two economic giants have rattled financial markets and exacerbated fears of economic slowdown - especially in China - generating some pressure for a deal.

In Mr Xi's letter, he urged the US to meet China "halfway in order to reach an early agreement that works for the interests of both sides.

"Such an agreement will send a positive signal to our two peoples and the broader international community," he said.

For his part, Mr Trump said China's pledge would make US farmers - a key political constituency - "very happy".

"We have to get this put on paper at some point, if we agree," Mr Trump said. "There are some points we don't agree to yet, but I think we will agree."

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