BEIJING • China's Foreign Ministry reiterated yesterday that it had not heard of any recent telephone call between the United States and China on trade, and said it hopes Washington can cease its wrong actions and create conditions for talks.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang made the comment at a news briefing after US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said there had been contact between the two sides, but declined to say with whom.
US President Donald Trump claimed the calls happened over the weekend - during which, he said, China had indicated it wanted to work towards a trade deal.
During yesterday's briefing, Mr Geng said: "Regretfully, the US has announced its decision to add new tariffs on Chinese products. Such maximum pressure will hurt both sides and is not constructive at all."
He repeated China's stance on the trade talks. "We hope the US can exercise restraint, come back to reason and create conditions for our consultation based on mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit."
On Monday, Mr Trump said the prospects for a deal with China are better now than at any time since negotiations began last year, even as a top state media editor in Beijing questioned his version of events.
Tensions between the world's two biggest economies have escalated in recent days, after both sides announced new tariffs on each other's goods and Mr Trump called for American companies to leave China.
Mr Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of China's Global Times, said in a tweet that top trade negotiators had not spoken by phone in recent days and that Mr Trump was exaggerating the significance of the contact so far.
China's top trade negotiator, Vice-Premier Liu He, said on Monday that Beijing is "willing to solve the problem through consultation and cooperation with a calm attitude", which Mr Trump cited as a positive signal.
The Communist Party's flagship newspaper People's Daily said in a commentary yesterday that the US "shouldn't misjudge" China's determination to retaliate if the US follows through with higher tariffs.
How the 'two phone calls' saga unfolded
US President Donald Trump, at the Group of Seven summit in France: "China called last night our top trade people and said, 'Let's get back to the table', so we will be getting back to the table, and I think they want to do something… We've got two (phone) calls and very, very good calls. Very productive calls. They mean business. They want to be able to make a deal."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, when asked about the two phone calls, at a regular media briefing in Beijing: "I am not aware of the phone calls over the weekend you mentioned… I haven't heard of the calls."
Editor-in-chief Hu Xijin, of China's state-owned Global Times newspaper, tweeted: "Based on what I know, Chinese and US top negotiators didn't hold phone talks in recent days. The two sides have been keeping contact at technical level… China didn't change its position. China won't cave in to US pressure."
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, when asked by reporters about the apparent discrepancy: "There were discussions that went back and forth and let's just leave it at that."
Responding to Mr Mnuchin's comments, Mr Trump told reporters there were "numerous calls", and added: "I don't want to talk about calls. We've had calls at the highest level, but I don't want to talk about that."
Mr Geng, when asked again by reporters on the two phone calls, at a regular media briefing in Beijing: "I've answered this question yesterday. Regarding the two phone calls over the weekend that the US mentioned, I have not heard about such a matter."