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Trump says China called U.S. trade team "twice" and wants "to make a deal" as companies are leaving

Trump says China wants to negotiate on trade

Biarritz, France — President Trump lauded his Chinese counterpart on Monday and said Beijing was actively reaching out to Washington to resume trade negotiations and "make a deal" to end a spiralling trade war. He made the remarks at a Group of Seven (G-7) summit in France with fellow world leaders, many of whom are gravely concerned about the impact of a deepening trade war between China and the U.S.

The president said Chinese officials had called "twice" over the weekend to discuss trade talks with his administration. He would not say whether he personally spoke with his counterpart Xi Jinping recently, and a Chinese official denied any knowledge of phone calls over the weekend.

"I think we're going to have a deal, because now we're dealing on proper terms. They understand and we understand," Mr. Trump said. "Very big things are happening with China."

On Friday Mr. Trump announced that his administration would boost tariffs on $550 billion in Chinese imports later this year in retaliation for China's decision to hike trade levies on $75 billion in U.S. products. The move deepened a trade war that many fear could tip the U.S. and other global economies into recession. 

Mr. Trump praised President Xi as a "great leader" for understanding "how life works," as he said Chinese officials had "called last night our top trade people and said let's get back to the table."

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"I have great respect for it," the president said. "This is a very positive development for the world… They want to make a deal. That's a great thing."

On Sunday Mr. Trump appeared to suggest that even he had misgivings about the hard line he was taking in the trade standoff with Beijing, but senior aides later insisted the president's reference to "second thoughts" was only over whether he should have imposed even harsher tariffs.

China says U.S. "trampling" rules

Beijing did not confirm any weekend phone calls between its trade representatives and U.S. officials, and in regular remarks to reporters, a Foreign Ministry representative said he was unaware of any such phone conversations.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China firmly opposed any new U.S. tariffs and would take "more steps" to protect its interests if they were enacted as threatened.

Geng accused the Trump administration of "trampling on multilateral trade rules, damaging the interests of China and the United States, threatening the security of the global industrial supply chain, and dragging down international trade and world economic growth" with the latest announcement of a tariff hike. 

"We have noticed that the U.S.'s escalations of trade frictions have caused widespread concern from all walks of life in the United States and the international community. We hope that the U.S. can return to rationality as soon as possible, give up wrong practices, and create conditions for the two sides to conduct consultations on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit," Geng said.

Later Monday, pressed on the claims after Geng's denial of any knowledge of weekend phone calls, President Trump insisted the calls had taken place "last night, and before last night." He said they had been "numerous," and suggested the Chinese were eager to resume talks as the pressure his administration was putting on China's economy meant "they've lost millions of jobs."

"They lost 3 million jobs in a short period of time," Mr. Trump said. "A lot of companies have left China."

Asked whether his goal was indeed to drive business out of China, Mr. Trump said it was, "if we don't make a deal."  

Trump gets ready to "double down" on trade war with China

CBS News White House correspondent Ben Tracy noted that Mr. Trump has said for months that China wants to make a trade deal, but that he is "not ready." That has widely been interpreted as meaning Beijing wants to make a deal on terms that President Trump won't accept.

Tracy also noted that there are already trade talks scheduled for early September in Washington, so any phone calls by China might have been aimed at confirming those discussions. The last round of trade talks, in Shanghai in July, ended without any significant agreements.

Mr. Trump said he would have a further statement on China and noted that a news conference was scheduled for later Monday on the sidelines of the G-7 summit at the French mountain resort of Biarritz.

Heads Of Government Attend G7 Summit
G-7 leaders and guests pose for a family picture with the Biarritz lighthouse in the background on the second day of the 2019 G-7 summit in France. In the first row, from left to right are Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa, Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, African Union Chair Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President Donald Trump, France's President Emmanuel Macron, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, Senegal's President Macky Sall.  Getty

The president spoke to reporters briefly on Monday during a bilateral meeting with Egypt's President Abdeh Fatah al-Sisi. He met later with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. His meetings were closed but Mr. Trump was expected to give a joint news conference later with Merkel and Indian leader Narendra Modi.

In his remarks he also praised a U.S. trade deal with Japan that he announced the previous day, and criticized the media for focusing more on the "bad things."

"When we make a really big and really great trade deal, like with Japan, the media never writes about it. They only like to write about the bad things," he said. "There aren't too many of them."

The president said on Friday that U.S. tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese imports would increase from 25% to 30% on October 1. An additional $300 billion in Chinese goods would be taxed at 15%, instead of 10%, starting on September 1. The stepped-up tariffs would represent a U.S. tax hike on virtually all goods imported from China under Mr. Trump's leadership.

Larry Kudlow, the White House's top economic adviser, was asked on Sunday if the Trump administration was escalating or de-escalating the trade dispute with China.

He insisted that nothing had changed.

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