Trump shifts tone again, says China wants to 'make a deal' on trade

President TrumpDonald John TrumpJoe Arpaio loses bid for his old position as sheriff Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' Trump tees up executive orders on economy but won't sign yet MORE said China wants to "get back to the table" and called its president a "great leader" as the Group of Seven (G-7) meeting neared its ending, his latest shift in tone on trade negotiations with Beijing.

The trade battle with China has contributed to an unsettling economic situation that has led to worries about a recession next year along with questions about how that might affect the 2020 presidential race. 

It's also the latest in a series of mixed signals from Trump, who just Sunday suggested he regretted imposing higher tariffs on China, only for the White House to insist those remarks had been misinterpreted by the media and that his only regret was not imposing higher tariffs.

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Trump also suggested on Friday that Chinese President Xi Jinping was an “enemy” of the United States after Beijing announced a new round of reciprocal tariffs on American goods. On Monday, he described him as a “great leader.”

The president's shift came as he spoke to reporters during a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on the sidelines of the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France.

Trump said that China wants “to make a deal,” referencing media reports quoting a top Chinese official saying that Beijing is willing to resolve the ongoing trade war through “calm” negotiations with the United States.

“China called, last night, our top trade people, and said, 'Let's get back to the table,’ ” Trump told reporters. 

“So, we'll be getting back to the table. And I think they want to do something. They've been hurt very badly, but they understand this is the right thing to do. And I have great respect for it. I have great respect for it. This is a very positive development for the world,” Trump continued.

Trump said his administration received two calls from Chinese officials, but declined to say whether he is speaking with Xi directly.

“They mean business. They want to be able to make a deal. It's very important that — yeah, I think it's very important for them,” Trump said.

Trump said negotiations would start “very shortly” and predicted both sides are “going to make a deal.”

Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he did not know of any phone calls between the two countries, Reuters reported.

When pressed later, Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinTrump tees up executive orders on economy but won't sign yet Overnight Health Care: Trump to take executive action after coronavirus talks collapse | Vaccine official says he'd resign if pressured politically Coronavirus talks collapse as negotiators fail to reach deal MORE declined to provide details about the calls.

The Trump administration first levied tariffs on Chinese goods over a year ago, and while both sides appeared to near a deal earlier this year, talks eventually broke down.

Trump has in recent weeks endured increased scrutiny for his ongoing trade war with China, which has been blamed in part for the weakening of the global economy. Trump’s announcement that he would respond to China’s reciprocal tariffs sent stocks falling on Friday.

During a later meeting Monday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Biarritz, Trump said he was open to delaying planned tariffs on China while the talks play out.

“Anything’s possible. We’re having very meaningful talks. Much more meaningful than at any time, I would think. China is a great country, I would consider President Xi to be a great leader,” Trump said.

The U.S. is set to impose tariffs on more than $500 billion in Chinese goods come Sept. 1.

— This report was updated at 7:23 a.m.