Trump says talks with China continue amid escalating trade war

The president heaped praise on his Chinese counterpart, calling him a “great leader” and said China wants “to do something very, very badly.”

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By Shannon Pettypiece

SAINT JEAN DE LUZ, France — President Donald Trump said U.S. and Chinese officials spoke Sunday and he is optimistic China wants to make a deal after the trade war between the two countries escalated in recent days.

“They want to make a deal,” Trump told reporters Monday during a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi at the Group of Seven Summit. “That’s a great thing.”

The conversations Sunday between the U.S. and Chinese officials were the first since the two countries lobbed a new round of tariffs at each other last week. Neither side formally broke off talks and White House officials had said they expected negotiations to continue despite the new tariffs. But investors had feared China could walk away from the negotiating table.

Speaking to reporters, Trump heaped praise on Chinese President Xi Jinping, calling him a “great leader” and said China wants “to do something very, very badly.” He said the calls were at the "highest levels."

"We are probably in a much better position now than any time in the negotiations," Trump said in a meeting Monday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

When asked about the phone calls, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said, “I haven’t heard about this.” News of Trump's comments was breaking as he was addressing reporters.

Hours earlier, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He said China sought "calm" negotiations and opposed an escalation.

“We are willing to solve the problem through consultation and cooperation with a calm attitude,” he said, according to Chinese newspaper Caixin. “We firmly oppose the escalation of the trade war,” he said, adding that it “is not conducive to China, the U.S. and the interests of people all over the world.”

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Liu, China’s top trade negotiator, was speaking at a tech conference in Chongqing in southwest China, the Chongqing Morning Post reported.

The stock market fell sharply Friday after China announced it would slap retaliatory tariffs on $75 billion worth of U.S. goods, and Trump hit back saying he would increase existing tariffs on $250 billion in imports to 30 percent from 25 percent Oct. 1.

He also said that a planned 10 percent tariff on a further $300 billion in Chinese goods would now be taxed at 15 percent starting next month.

But the continued talks and optimism from Trump eased financial market jitters. U.S. stock futures pointed to a recovery Monday morning, with Dow futures jumping more than 200 points.

Trump’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said Sunday afternoon that he was anticipating a call from the Chinese this week and for Chinese officials to still come to Washington as planned.

“You’ve got both sides playing their game, we get that,” Kudlow told reporters. “As long as they are talking, I’m good.”

Trump also signaled a hint of optimism on Iran.

He said he didn’t feel disrespected by the surprise arrival of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the seaside town where the meeting of world leaders is taking place. Trump said French President Emmanuel Macron let him know Zarif was coming on the day of his arrival.

“I don’t consider that disrespectful at all, especially when he asked for my approval,” Trump said of Macron.

But White House aides said they felt blindsided by the unanticipated visitor, and some were upset at the French over the move, U.S. officials said shortly after Zarif's arrival.

A spokesman for Zarif announced that he had arrived in Biarritz at the invitation of the French foreign minister “to continue talks” between the Iranian and French governments.

Trump said it would have been too soon to meet with the Iranians, and he declined to comment when asked if he sent any message to Zarif. There is no indication Zarif would have been willing to meet with the U.S. officials.

Trump said he isn’t looking for regime change in Iran, but that he wants to see the country abandon its nuclear program and stop its terrorism funding before lifting financial restrictions that have crippled its economy.

“We are looking to make Iran rich again,” Trump told reporters Monday. “Let them be rich.”

Reuters contributed.