China's ambassador to the United States said it was "very confusing" trying to work out which member of President Donald Trump's administration was responsible for trade policy, as relations between the world's two biggest economies continued to worsen.
Asked in an interview on Fox News about his view on Mr Trump's policies and whether White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow, treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin or trade adviser Peter Navarro were the key figures in the conflict, Cui Tiankai replied: "You tell me."
“[Diplomats] don’t know who is the final decision maker. Of course, presumably the president would take the final decision, but who is playing what role? Sometimes it could be very confusing,” Mr Cui said.
Relations between China and the US have been tense since Mr Trump started to introduce new tariffs on Chinese goods imported into the US, introducing extra tariffs of 10 per cent on $200 billion (€170 billion) of Chinese products, levies that are due to increase to 25 per cent by the end of the year.
For its part, China has imposed tariffs of about $60 billion (€51 billion) worth of tariffs on American goods, and both have already levied taxes of about $50 billion (€42.5 billion) of each other’s goods.
Mr Trump has described the trade war as more of a “skirmish”.
“I called it a battle. But, actually, I’m gonna lower that. I consider it a skirmish. And we’re gonna win,” the US president said in an interview with CBS. He said that while the conflict was clearly hurting China, he wanted to negotiate a fair deal.
“I want them to negotiate a fair deal with us. I want them to open their markets like our markets are open,” he said
"I have a great chemistry also with President Xi of China. I don't know that that's necessarily going to continue. I told President Xi we cannot continue to have China take $500 billion a year out of the United States in the form of trade and other things," Mr Trump said. The two leaders are expected to meet at November's G20 summit in Buenos Aires for their first face-to-face meeting since August.
The trade war is clearly having an impact. Vehicle sales by the US car giant Ford fell 43 per cent in September, largely on the back of the conflict but also as a result of the slowing Chinese economy.
Tensions were raised further by a speech this month by vice president Mike Pence, who accused China of meddling in US mid-term elections. Mr Cui told Fox that the accusations were "groundless".
The Chinese envoy went on to accuse the Americans of taking an offensive approach by sending warships into disputed areas of the South China Sea, and he said selling weapons to self-ruled Taiwan was interfering in China's domestic affairs.
"It's not Chinese warships that are going to the coast of California or to the Gulf of Mexico. It's so close to the Chinese islands and it is so close to the Chinese coast. So who is on the offensive, who is on the defensive? This is very clear," Mr Cui said.