Donald Trump on Tuesday praised Chinese president Xi Jinping as a “terrific” leader, but said he would only agree to a trade agreement with Beijing if both sides reached a “fair deal”.
Speaking at the launch of his 2020 re-election campaign in Florida, Mr Trump suggested he was not desperate to secure a deal to end the trade war as the two leaders prepared to hold talks at the G20 summit in Japan later this month.
“I spoke to President Xi . . . this morning at length,” Mr Trump said. “We’ll see what happens. But we’re either going to have a good deal and a fair deal or we’re not going to have a deal at all and that’s OK too.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Trump tweeted that the two leaders had agreed to meet in Osaka at the end of June. A Chinese official confirmed to the Financial Times that Mr Xi had agreed to meet the US president.
Mr Trump had previously suggested that the leaders would meet at the G20 but the White House had not clarified if they would have a bilateral discussion.
Trade talks collapsed at the last minute last month with each side accusing the other of trying to change the terms of the deal at the eleventh hour. Since then the dispute has widened into a tech war, with the US placing Chinese telecom equipment maker Huawei on a commercial blacklist.
Asia equities rallied on the confirmation of the meeting, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index gaining 2.2 per cent and the CSI 300 index of Shanghai and Shenzhen stocks up 1.7 per cent. Elsewhere, Japan’s Topix rose 1.5 per cent.
Larry Kudlow, the top White House economic adviser, on Tuesday said he did not want to speculate about whether the two sides could reach a deal in Osaka.
Ahead of the call between Mr Trump and Mr Xi, Wilbur Ross, the US commerce secretary, was lukewarm on the chances of an agreement being reached at the summit.
“I think the most that will come out of the G20 might be an agreement to actively resume talks,” Mr Ross told the Wall Street Journal on Sunday.
Many companies and trade organisations are hoping that the meeting between the two leaders, which will come a year after they held a similar meeting at the G20 summit in Argentina, will help overcome some of the hurdles that have prevented both sides from unwinding the tit-for-tat tariffs imposed over the past year.
More than 600 companies and trade associations — including retailers such as Walmart and Target — last week wrote to Mr Trump asking him to return to the negotiating table. They stressed that while they supported efforts to persuade China to enact structural reform, they saw tariffs as a tax on Americans.
Additional reporting by Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong