Chinese President Xi Jinping said his nation wants to work toward a phase one trade agreement with the U.S. on the “basis of mutual respect and equality,” his first comments on a partial deal that he could potentially sign with President Donald Trump.
“We did not initiate this trade war and this is not something we want,” Xi reiterated in a Friday meeting with prominent international visitors to Beijing including former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. “When necessary, we will fight back, but we have been working actively to try not to have a trade war.”
The comments come a few days after U.S. President Donald Trump said China was not “stepping up to the level that I want” in the negotiations, as doubts have emerged about whether the two sides can hammer out a written agreement. On Wednesday, China’s chief trade negotiator Liu He indicated he was “cautiously optimistic” about reaching the first phase of a deal.
Liu made the comments in a speech in Beijing on Wednesday ahead of the Bloomberg New Economy Forum, which is being organized by Bloomberg Media Group, a division of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News. Some of the foreigners who met with Xi on Friday were also in Beijing to attend the New Economy Forum.
Xi also repeated the official line that China doesn’t want a trade war, but is “not afraid” to fight one. The Chinese leader spoke to more than a dozen people including former U.S. government officials such as Hank Paulson and Gary Cohn. Bloomberg LP Chairman Peter Grauer also attended the meeting.
Since Trump announced the phase one deal a month ago, markets have been whipsawed by comments from both sides, first indicating progress, and then the opposite.
The latest potential hurdle came after Liu made his dinner-time comments, when the U.S. House voted 417-1 for legislation supporting Hong Kong protesters that has already been unanimously approved by the Senate. It could go to Trump as soon as Thursday and he plans to sign the bill, a person familiar with the matter said.