Just days ago the hope was that if Washington and Beijing would just start talking then a trade war between the world’s two largest economies could be averted. But this week’s discussions in Beijing between the Trump administration and Xi Jinping’s economic team have only shown that a trade war may be inevitable. “These meetings could end up going into the books as a formalisation of hostilities rather than as the basis for a negotiated settlement,” said Eswar Prasad, a US-based China expert with close ties to Chinese economic policymakers. According to documents laying out the two sides’ demands, Beijing and Washington are both taking a hardline approach. Even if a solution is possible it is likely to take months to negotiate. The Trump administration is insisting that China cut its $337bn-a-year trade surplus in goods and services with the US by almost two-thirds over the next two years and refrain from retaliation against any US trade actions. However, it also wants to end elements of Mr Xi’s ‘Made in China 2025’ strategy, which aims to establish a world-leading role for Chinese companies in some sectors. In return, Beijing demands that the US ditch its longstanding objection to treating China as a market economy within the World Trade Organization. This could make it harder to hit back at unfair trade practices.