Confused erupted on Monday on the status of trade talks with China after Donald Trump said high-level calls had taken place, and Beijing seemed to dispute the narrative his claims.
At a sprawling press conference in Biarritz, France, where he was holding talks with the leaders of a dozen other nations, Trump clarified that one of the ‘calls’ he had referred to earlier was actually a speech the Chinese vice premier had given.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin rose to day that the countries had been volleying ‘back and forth’ over the past two days and other senior level discussions were taking place.
Trump insisted that the Chinese are looking to make a deal, because brutal tariffs the nations are stacking on one another cannot go on forever.
‘So when you say, “Do you think they want to?” Maybe they want to and maybe they don’t, but I think they want to make a deal. I’m not sure they have a choice. And I don’t say that as a threat. I don’t think they have a choice,’ he said.
The chaos came on the final day of the Group of Seven summit, held this year in the beach town of Biarritz.
Trump claimed there were ‘calls at the highest level’ about a trade agreement. He claimed Beijing’s enthusiasm is higher than it has ever been before and formal trade negotiations would be resuming.
Yet, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, said he was not aware of any new discussions.
He said told reporters after Trump’s initial claim that the Chinese had called the night before begging for a deal, ‘I haven’t heard about this.’
The nation’s vice premier Liu He had called for a ‘calm attitude’ toward negotiations earlier in the day, and Trump seemed to be conflating the speech with a telephone conversation.
‘We’ve had calls. We’ve had calls at the highest levels,’ he told reporters in Biarritz.
Trump did not say when the next round of talks would be held but assessed that
‘I have great respect for the fact that China called, and they want to make a deal,’ he said Monday morning at the G7 summit for the world’s most advanced economies. ‘And I think we’re going to have a deal. Because now we’re dealing on proper terms.’
China’s foreign ministry spokesman said he wasn’t aware of such a conversation, but Trump told reporters, ‘The vice premier is low level? I don’t think so.’
He did not confirm that Liu He, the top economic adviser to Chinese leader Xi Jinping, had made a personal call.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin would only say, ‘There were discussions that went back and forth, let’s leave it at that.’
China called up begging to make a deal, claimed Donald Trump on Monday in France. He’s pictured here with Xi during a trip to Beijing in November 2017
The president is in France and spoke overnight in the U.S. before American markets opened during a meeting with Egyptian President and Chairman of the African Union Abdel Fattah al-Sissi
The president is in France and spoke overnight in the U.S. before American markets opened. Tension had escalated with China on Friday when Beijing slapped new tariffs on $75 billion worth of U.S.-manufactured goods.
Trump hit back with an increase of 5 percent on $250 billion of already-penalized Chinese goods, bringing the total amount up to 30 percent.
Liu called for ‘calm’ negotiations Monday, even as Beijing allowed its currency, the yuan, to drop to the lowest level in more than a decade.
At a meeting with the Egyptian prime minister in Biarritz shortly after, Trump said, ‘They mean business. It’s why President Xi is a great leader. He understands.
‘And he’s able to do things other people aren’t able to do,’ he said of the dictator.
He said that China doesn’t want to lose its supply chains, and now it’s ready to negotiate to halt a skyrocketing trade war.
Trump had appeared to let off the gas on Sunday at the G7, admitting that he’d had ‘second thoughts’ in his trade war with China. The White House quickly reversed course, claiming that if anything, Trump wished he’d raised tariffs higher.
Aides also claimed he’d misheard a reporter’s question, and Trump was totally confident in his approach.
At a tech conference in Chongqing on Monday, Liu said that the trade dispute benefited no one.
‘We are willing to resolve the issue through consultations and cooperation in a calm attitude and resolutely oppose the escalation of the trade war,’ said Liu, according to a government transcript.
Xi’s top economic adviser said, ‘We believe that the escalation of the trade war is not beneficial for China, the United States, nor to the interests of the people of the world.’
Responding to a threat from Trump to harness emergency powers and order U.S. businesses out of China, he said, ‘We welcome enterprises from all over the world, including the United States, to invest and operate in China.’
While Trump was in a televised meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel, his personal Twitter account reviewed Liu’s remarks favorably.
‘Great respect for the fact that President Xi & his Representatives want “calm resolution.” So impressed that they are willing to come out & state the facts so accurately. This is why he is a great leader & representing a great country. Talks are continuing!’ he said.
Trump seemed to admit at a breakfast with Boris Johnson on Sunday that he wasn’t entirely confident that his hard-line approach to China was the correct course of action.
‘I have second thoughts about everything,’ he told a pool reporter who asked him if he had ‘second thoughts’ about the escalating trade war between the world’s two largest economies
The White House said afterward that Trump’s answer to the question he was asked repeatedly and seemed not to understand was ‘greatly misinterpreted,’ and he intended to signal consideration for additional tariffs.
‘President Trump responded in the affirmative – because he regrets not raising the tariffs higher,’ claimed White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham in a statement.
National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said on CNN ‘State of the Union’ program, ‘I’m not sure he heard the question altogether.’
Trump delayed a new slate of tariffs on computer monitors, laptops, cell phones and clothing until Dec. 15 after American companies warned that his trade policies could ruin Christmas.
He raised tariffs on other goods Friday evening after China announced retaliatory tariffs of $75 billion. Amid the dispute, the Dow shed 623 points.
Stock futures were up by 200 points on Monday in the U.S. on the news that Trump’s trade war could be nearing its end.
Meanwhile, Asian stocks, where the markets were already open, were experiencing a selloff.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index dropped 3 percent, and China’s Shanghai Composite Index was down 1.4 percent on Monday afternoon local time.
In Japan, the Nikkei 225 closed almost 450 points and 2.17 percent down. South Korea Kospi’s was down 1.5 percent, as well.
Trump announced that talks with China were resuming right as markets on the continent were closing, without enough time to react to the shifting sands.
The U.S. president ensured Wall Street would get a boost when he talked up the prospect of a deal at another bilateral meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel as New York Stock Exchange traders were filing into work.
‘Talks are going on with China at a very high level,’ he asserted.
Mnuchin said at the meeting that the U.S. appreciated Liu’s statements earlier, ‘And we look forward to continuing our discussions.’
The president’s economics advisers had insisted on a series of Sunday morning programs, and to White House press attending the G7 summit, that Trump did not mean to intimate that he was rethinking his trade war.
Treasury’s Mnuchin also said that while Trump would have the authority to declare an emergency, if he wanted, to force U.S. businesses move their operations out of China, he’s not planning to take drastic action at the moment.
‘He has not done that. I think what he was saying is he’s ordering companies to start looking because he wants to make sure — to the extent we are in an extended trade war — that companies don’t have these issues and move out of China. And we want them to be in places where they are trading partners that respect us and trade with us fairly,’ the U.S. Treasury secretary said on ‘Fox News Sunday.’
Vice Premier Liu He (pictured June 13) said Monday that China is willing to resolve its trade dispute with the United States through ‘calm’ negotiations and opposes escalating the conflict
Liu (second from right) shakes hands with United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (second from left) on July 31, as US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (left) and China’s Commerce Minister Zhong Shan (right) look on at July trade talks
Liu’s statement comes a day after President Trump (with China’s President Xi Jinping in November of 2017) said he’d had ‘second thoughts’ about the escalating trade war
Trump also said Monday that he had other ‘good news yesterday’ the media had misreported the day prior, referring to a surprise drop-in at the G7 by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
‘I don’t want to comment on that. But he was here. And we’ll see what happens with Iran,’ he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron asked for ‘my approval’ for Zarif to visit, he revealed at his bilateral with Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
‘We have a very good relationship,’ he said of the 41-year-old leader of France.
Pushing back on reports that he had been blindsided by Zarif’s arrival in Biarritz on Sunday, he said, ‘No no no. He spoke to me. He asked me. And I said, “If you want to do that, that’s OK.” And I don’t think that’s disrespectful at all.’
Trump reaffirmed that he is not looking for regime change in Tehran. ‘You’ve seen how that worked,’ he added.
The president suggested that he did not meet with Zarif while the official enemy of the United States was in France, saying he thinks it’s too early for direct talks.
‘I don’t want to meet with him right now,’ Trump said without writing off a meeting in the future.
He declined to comment on whether he sent Zarif a ‘message’ through an emissary such as Macron.