While both Donald Trump and his commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, said this week that they ultimately expected a trade deal with China would materialize, the US president was combative in comments on Tuesday.

“China wants to make a deal very badly. It’s me, right now, that’s holding up the deal,” Trump told reporters outside the White House. “And we’re going to either do a great deal with China or we’re not doing a deal at all. Right now, China is paying us billions and billions of dollars.”

He added that the Democratic Party front-runner to challenge him in the 2020 presidential election, former vice-president Joe Biden, is weak on China.

“They never gave us ten cents. And China ate our country alive during Obama and Biden. They ate us alive. And then Biden has some sort of relationship financially – or his son – with China. Tell me about that. Because China ate the United States alive, economically, and it’s a shame,” he said.

The comments came just before Trump flew to Iowa, a key early-voting state in presidential primary elections, where Biden was also campaigning.

On Monday, Trump suggested in an interview on CNBC that he expected to reach a deal with Beijing.

“The China deal is going to work out. You know why? Because of tariffs,” Trump said. “Right now, China is getting absolutely decimated by companies that are leaving China, going to other countries, including our own, because they don’t want to pay the tariffs.”

Trump called into the network, unscheduled, to rebut criticism of his tariff policy that aired earlier on the program. During the half-hour interview, he also touted the success of his controversial Mexico policy and spoke on US Federal Reserve policy.

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross expressed much the same sentiment regarding the likelihood of a deal with China on the same network in an interview on Tuesday.

“Eventually, this will end in negotiation,” Ross said. “Even shooting wars end in negotiations.”

While Trump has repeatedly suggested that he will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Group of Twenty summit in Japan this month, China’s Foreign Ministry declined to confirm such a meeting.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Tuesday that China is “not afraid of fighting a trade war.” But he added that China’s door was open to talks “based on equality.”