Markets have grown increasingly jittery in recent days over the talks as conflicting rumors swirled and rifts surfaced between the Chinese government and private American enterprises, such as the NBA and Apple Inc.
Investors have drawn some encouragement from reports that Beijing is open to a partial deal. But a report by the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post saying that preliminary talks for the meetings did not go well doused some of that enthusiasm.
Germany's DAX fell 0.1% in midday trading to 12,086. In France, the CAC 40 picked up 0.2% to 5,510 while Britain's FTSE 100 declined 0.1% to 7,158.
Wall Street looked set for losses at the open, with the future contracts for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 both off about 0.2%.
In Asia, Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 added 0.5% to finish at 21,551.98. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was flat at 6,547.10, while South Korea's Kospi lost 0.9% to 2,028.15. India's Sensex skidded 0.7% to 37,890.59.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng picked up 0.1% to 25,702.91, while the Shanghai Composite rose 0.8% to 25,702.91.
"Updates on U.S.-China trade keep their grip on markets as we await the commencement of trade talks going into Thursday," says Jingyi Pan, market strategist at IG in Singapore.
The trade war between the U.S. and China has dragged on for 15 months, inflicting economic damage on both countries. The two sides have raised import duties on billions of dollars of each other's goods, fueling fears their dispute might tip the global economy into recession.
Washington and Beijing had held off from further escalating the conflict until this week, when the U.S. blacklisted a group of Chinese technology companies over alleged human rights violations.
All told, the Trump administration has imposed tariffs on more than $360 billion worth of Chinese goods and plans to tax an additional $160 billion of imports on Dec. 15. This would extend U.S. tariffs to just about everything China ships to the United States. China has counterpunched by taxing $120 billion in U.S. exports, notably soybeans and other farm goods.
Further complicating matters, Chinese authorities became incensed by a tweet posted last week by Daryl Morey, the general manager of the NBA's Houston Rockets. Morey's tweet expressing support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong has since been taken down, but Chinese officials canceled news conferences scheduled around Thursday's preseason game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets in Shanghai.
Apple, meanwhile, gave in to pressure from the Chinese government to drop an app showing police movements around the protests in Hong Kong. Apple removed the smartphone app from its online store Thursday.
ENERGY: Benchmark crude oil gained 9 cents to $52.68 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It fell 4 cents to $52.59 a barrel Wednesday. Brent crude oil, the international standard, rose 7 cents to $58.39 a barrel.
CURRENCIES: The dollar slipped slightly to 107.42 Japanese yen from 107.46 yen. The euro rose to $1.1024 from $1.0989 on Wednesday.
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