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Vice President Mike Pence says White House is 'hopeful' for a deal with China — but it's not clear 'they want to do it yet'

Key Points
  • Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday that while President Donald Trump and White House "remain hopeful" that it can secure a sweeping trade agreement with China, it's not clear Beijing is ready to deal.
  • "I think we have a sense that China wants to do a deal," Pence says. "We just don't know if they want to do it yet."
  • Pence spoke with CNBC's Joe Kernen at the Delivering Alpha conference presented by CNBC and Institional Investor about where things stand between the two economic superpowers.
Vice President Pence speaking at 2019 Delivering Alpha in New York, on Sept. 19. 2019.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC

Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday that while President Donald Trump and the White House "remain hopeful" that they can secure a sweeping trade agreement with China, it's not clear Beijing is ready to deal. 

Pence spoke with CNBC's Joe Kernen at the Delivering Alpha conference presented by CNBC and Institional Investor about where things stand between the two economic superpowers, with more high-level trade talks on the horizon and more trade penalties scheduled to follow before the end of the year.

"We remain hopeful, but the question now is whether or not China wants to do a deal," the vice president said.

"I think we have a sense that China wants to do a deal," Pence added. "We just don't know if they want to do it yet."

On Thursday, trade negotiators from both countries resumed talks for the first time in months, after an impasse in the discussions had given way to a period of escalation in the trade war.

Trump had slapped new tariffs on imports of Chinese goods, had hiked up existing tariff rates and had promised to impose more trade duties by the end of the year. China had responded with tariffs of its own, and vowed to stop buying U.S. agriculture products.

The increasingly heated gamesmanship has appeared to cool in recent weeks, however. Trump delayed a scheduled Oct. 1 tariff increase on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports, and Beijing postponed some tariffs of its own.

Pence at the conference reiterated Trump's vow that a good deal with China would have to address the theft of intellectual property and forced technology transfers.

"The truth of the matter is, China has not been willing to embrace the international rules of commerce," Pence said. "They've abused the rules of commerce to their advantage and taken advantage of American and other economies far too long."

Pence also took a shot at the front-runner in the Democratic presidential primary, former Vice President Joe Biden, for his prior comments claiming China is less of an economic threat than the Trump administration has made it out to be.

"My predecessor Joe Biden did an interview where he scoffed at the idea that China was a competitor. And it's really remarkable. But that's where we got here today with China," Pence said.

The Biden campaign did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment on the vice president's remarks.