WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump has said that China is a "threat to the world" and suggests that Beijing is eager to make a trade deal because his tariffs are hurting the Chinese economy, coarsening his tone as the two countries prepare to resume negotiations.
The Trump administration has closely tied economic policy and national security and, in remarks at the White House last Friday, Mr Trump said China is using money pilfered from the United States through unfair trade practices to build up its military.
The comments came as mid-level officials from both countries wrapped up talks in Washington last week - which the Xinhua news agency yesterday called "constructive" - ahead of a planned meeting between senior trade negotiators next month.
"Obviously, China is a threat to the world in a sense, because they're building a military faster than anybody," Mr Trump said.
"I view China in many different ways. But, right now, I'm thinking about trade. But, you know, trade equals military."
Mr Trump also tried to put to rest speculation that he might settle for an interim deal to give markets a lift ahead of the presidential election next year.
"I'm looking for a complete deal, I'm not looking for a partial deal," Mr Trump said during a joint news conference with Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia.
"We're looking for the big deal."
Mr Trump has imposed tariffs on US$360 billion (S$495 billion) worth of Chinese goods and plans to tax nearly all imports from China by the end of the year.
He said that the tariffs have not had an impact on the US economy, despite vocal complaints from American businesses, who say their costs are going up and their supply chains are being disrupted.
Many of those businesses have applied to the US Trade Representative for relief from the tariffs and, last Friday, the administration excluded hundreds of products from being taxed.
Despite Mr Trump's renewed criticism of China, the two countries have been taking steps to ease tension in recent weeks as they try to resolve a dispute that has cast a cloud over the global economy.
China has recently allowed its companies to resume purchases of some American farm products after Mr Trump agreed to delay increasing tariffs on another batch of Chinese imports by two weeks, to Oct 15.
As part of a deal, China wants the US to roll back the tariffs that it imposed and lift restrictions on American companies doing business with Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant. In addition to buying more American agricultural products, the US wants China to make sweeping changes to its industrial policy, protect American intellectual property and open its market to American businesses.
But it remains evident that mending the relationship between the US and China will not happen easily.
Sources familiar with the just-ended two-day talks in Washington said that the Chinese delegation's leader, Vice-Finance Minister Liao Min, laid out China's demands that any deal must remove all US tariffs and be balanced so that it is not all concessions from Beijing and none from Washington.
During a speech in New York last week, Mr Cui Tiankai, China's ambassador to America, squarely blamed the US for the trade war.
"The trade war the US launched and repeatedly escalated was based on a wrong rationale in the very beginning, and its negative impact has now hit both countries and spilled over to the whole world," he said.
A Chinese delegation, led by Minister for Agriculture Han Changfu, was planning to visit farms in Montana tomorrow and Tuesday.
But, last Friday morning, the Montana Farm Bureau was alerted that the visit had been cancelled because the group had to return early to China, according to Mr Scott Kulbeck, director of membership development at the bureau.
Last Friday, Mr Trump insisted that even though the relationship between the US and China has soured on his watch, he continues to have fond feelings for China's leader Xi Jinping.
"My relationship with President Xi is a very amazing one, very good one," he said. "But we have, right now, a little spat."