G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires

U.S. President Donald Trump, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a working dinner after the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018.

BUENOS AIRES — High-stakes trade talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday went “very well,” a top White House aide said, suggesting there may have been progress toward defusing the two countries’ damaging tariffs war.

With the United States and China locked in an economic dispute that has unnerved global financial markets and weighed on the world economy, Trump and Xi sat down with their aides for a working dinner at the conclusion of a two-day gathering of world leaders in Buenos Aires.

Trump told Xi at the start of the meeting he hoped they would achieve “something great” on trade for both countries. The leaders finished their talks after about 2½ hours and Trump departed for his scheduled flight back to Washington.

While neither side issued any immediate statements on the outcome, White House chief economist Larry Kudlow told reporters as he boarded Air Force One that the talks went “very well.” He offered no specifics.

The editor of a major Chinese state-run newspaper also said the talks went well.

“Based on information I received, talks between Xi and Trump went well and consensus was reached,” Hu Xijin, the editor of the Global Times, published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, wrote on Twitter, without giving details.

The closely watched encounter came shortly after the Group of 20 industrialized nations backed an overhaul of the global body that regulates international trade disputes, marking a victory for Trump, a sharp critic of the organization.

Trump struck a positive note as he sat across from Xi, despite the U.S. president’s earlier threats to impose new tariffs on Chinese imports.

“We’ll be discussing trade and I think at some point we are going to end up doing something great for China and great for the United States,” Trump said when a small pool of reporters was briefly allowed into the room.

He suggested that the “incredible relationship” he and Xi had established would be “the very primary reason” they could make progress on trade, though he offered no sense of how they might resolve the main issue dividing their countries.

Xi told Trump that only through cooperation could the United States and China serve the interest of peace and prosperity. The world’s two biggest economies have also increasingly been at odds over security in the Asia-Pacific region.

At the same time, Trump again raised with Xi his concern about the synthetic opioid fentanyl being sent from China to the United States, urging the Chinese leader to place it in a “restricted category” of drugs that would criminalize it.

Earlier on Saturday, the leaders of all the world’s top economies called for reforms to the crisis-stricken World Trade Organization in a final statement from their summit.

Officials expressed relief that agreement on the summit communique was reached after negotiators worked through the night to overcome differences over language on climate change.

The final text recognized trade as an important engine of global growth but made only a passing reference to “the current trade issues,” after the U.S. delegation won a battle to keep any mention of protectionism out of the statement.

Ahead of what was seen as the most important meeting of U.S. and Chinese leaders in years, both sides said differences remained, and the outcome of the talks were uncertain.