Mr Trump said his trade negotiators had received two “very good calls” from China on Sunday. But a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry said on Monday that he didn’t know what calls Mr Trump was talking about. Another round of trade talks is expected in Washington in September.
Mr Trump expressed his optimism about China hours after he sent mixed messages on the tariff war.
On Sunday, he seemed to express regret over escalating the trade dispute, but the White House later said his only regret was that he didn’t impose even higher tariffs on China.
The next day, Mr Trump claimed the Sunday evening conversations meant China is serious about making a deal. He said later that talks also had taken place before Sunday.
“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.
He declined to say whether he has spoken to China’s president Xi Jinping or to identify those involved in the most recent conversations, saying only that they were at the “highest levels”.
“This is the first time I’ve seen them where they really want to make a deal. And I think that’s a very positive step,” Mr Trump added as he met Egypt’s president on the sidelines of the Group of Seven summit.
Whenever he is asked about China, Mr Trump almost always says he believes they want to make a deal more than he does.
He said on Monday that the two sides will begin “talking very seriously”, adding that after the calls he believes the Chinese “mean business”.
The Chinese were unaware of any recent conversations. “I have not heard of the weekend calls mentioned by the United States,” said Geng Shuang, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry.
A Chinese delegation had long been expected to travel to Washington in September to continue talks.
That remained the case after Mr Trump’s escalation on Friday following China’s tariff announcement – Mr Trump last week hiked tariffs on the country after it taxed some US imports in retaliation for a previous round of imports levied by Mr Trump. The move sent the US stock market stumbling.
Mr Trump also “ordered” US corporations to find alternatives to doing business in China and threatened to declare a national emergency to enforce it. He softened the threat on Sunday, saying he would only consider it if China again responded with raising tariffs on American goods.
Mr Trump’s comments about China at the G7 summit came as he acknowledged, for the first time, Sunday’s surprise appearance at the meeting by Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, and as the international gathering put Mr Trump’s differences with his counterparts on display.
World leaders had encouraged Mr Trump all weekend to de-escalate the conflict with China and he clashed with French president Emmanuel Macron over new France’s digital services tax.
He also broke with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in not forcefully condemning North Korea’s recent ballistic missile launches. But on Monday, Mr Trump repeatedly claimed the reports of disagreements were overblown, starting with Mr Zarif’s visit.
Uncharacteristically silent on Sunday while Mr Zarif was in Biarritz, where the summit is being held, Mr Trump insisted that Mr Macron had asked his “approval” before inviting Mr Zarif to attend.
Mr Macron is working to lower tensions in the Persian Gulf. Mr Trump rejected the assertion by some allies that the invitation to Mr Zarif was somehow an insult.
“I spoke to President Macron yesterday and I knew everything he was doing and I approved whatever he was doing and I thought it was fine,” Mr Trump said of the Iranian talks.
He said he thought it was too soon for him to meet Mr Zarif but wouldn’t say whether any Americans had been in contact with the Iranian. The Iranian government had said it would not meet any Americans during the eight-hour visit to France.
Mr Trump said there could soon be time for a meeting between himself and Iranian officials, but refused to lay out clear steps forward or say if he’d be willing to accede to a plan put forward by Mr Macron to offer Iran some relief from crushing petroleum sanctions in exchange for restarting nuclear talks.
He said of the Iran talks, “It’s all very new. They’re under a lot of financial stress.”
After the China trade talks broke down this spring, Mr Trump and Mr Xi agreed in June to resume negotiations.
Talks in Shanghai in July ended without any indication of progress, and the White House said at the time that Chinese negotiators would come to Washington in September.
Mr Trump also said on Monday that his private golf resort near Miami is the likely venue for next year’s summit, when it’s the turn of the US to host the annual gathering. He said a final decision has not been made.