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China says it's willing to resolve the trade war with a 'calm attitude,' hints it won't retaliate for now

Key Points
  • "We firmly reject an escalation of the trade war, and are willing to negotiate and collaborate in order to solve this problem with calm attitude," Gao Feng, spokesman for China's Ministry of Commerce, says Thursday, according to a CNBC translation of his Mandarin-language remarks.
  • Gao noted the Chinese and U.S. trade delegations have maintained "effective” communication.
  • But he did not confirm U.S. President Donald Trump's claim on Monday that the Chinese team called the U.S. over the weekend with the desire of reaching a deal soon.
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BEIJING — China is willing to calmly resolve the trade dispute with the United States and is against any further escalation in tensions, Gao Feng, spokesman for China's Ministry of Commerce, said Thursday.

"We firmly reject an escalation of the trade war, and are willing to negotiate and collaborate in order to solve this problem with a calm attitude," Gao said, according to a CNBC translation of his Mandarin-language remarks. He noted that the Chinese and U.S. trade delegations have maintained "effective” communication.

But he did not confirm a claim from President Donald Trump on Monday which said the Chinese team had called the U.S. over the weekend with the desire of reaching a deal soon. China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has previously said it is unaware of the call that Trump described.

"China has plenty of means for counter measures, but under current situation, the question that should be discussed right now is about removing the U.S.' new tariffs on $550 billion Chinese goods to prevent escalation of the trade war," Gao said.

His comment came after Trump on Friday threatened to raise duties on $250 billion in Chinese goods to 30% from 25% and increase tariffs on another $300 billion in products to 15% from 10%, in response to Chinese retaliation.

Gao indicated the Chinese are more interested in negotiations than they are on retaliating, highlighting the need to prevent further escalation.

Tensions between the world's two-largest economies escalated late last week and into the weekend with each country announcing plans to increase tariffs on billions of dollars' worth of goods from the other.

"At present, there have been quite a lot of all kinds of sayings. In the area of economics and trade, we will clarify the facts and let everyone understand the truth," Gao said. He declined to confirm whether Trump's comments counted among such sayings.

The last publicly known high-level call between both delegations was on Aug. 13. The Ministry of Commerce said at the time in a statement that a similar call was planned within two weeks. The two sides were also expected to meet face-to-face in September.

However, after the latest escalation it is still not clear how close the U.S. and China are to taking another step forward in negotiations. When asked Thursday about whether the two sides will meet in September, Gao said both are discussing the matter.

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—CNBC's Yun Li contributed reporting.