"What they don't want is to send their guy here and POTUS says 'nope I'm out of here, see you on the 9th hole,'" a senior administration official said.
After last week's fumbled nuclear summit in Vietnam, Beijing is worried President Donald Trump might walk away from the negotiating table.
Nuclear talks between Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong Un were cut short after the two sides failed to reach an agreement. The collapse of the Hanoi summit came as a surprise as many experts had predicted that both leaders would try to reach a deal on smaller items.
That diplomatic snafu led Chinese officials to grow worried Trump could do the same in trade talks, a senior administration official told CNBC on Friday.
"The Chinese saw him walk away from North Korea and they're concerned he will walk away from the China deal," the official said. "You don't want to send Xi to Mar-a-Lago and have Trump walk away. That would be a diplomatic catastrophe."
China complained that Trump walked away from smaller trade deals they thought they'd negotiated with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and separately, with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, diplomatic sources told NBC News.
The official said a face-to-face meeting between China's Xi Jinping and Trump is still a ways off, given that the two to three weeks of summit preparation work has not started yet. To ensure such a summit would not follow the same fallout as the nuclear talks in Hanoi, the official said Beijing and Washington are going through "line-by-line negotiations."
"What they don't want is to send their guy here and POTUS says 'nope I'm out of here, see you on the 9th hole,'" the official said.
Earlier Friday, there were reports that a meeting between the two leaders at Mar-a-Lago was cancelled. The White House said that nothing has officially been scheduled or cancelled.