From the day Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency up until election day, he railed against China for taking advantage of the United States economically. His push for “fair trade” even changed the long-standing Republican paradigm of free trade.
As President on his first trip to China, his tune has changed. He still believes that China takes advantage of the United States on trade, but he doesn’t blame them. In fact, he gave China and President Xi Jinping great praise.
“I don’t blame China. After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the sake of its citizens?” he said shortly after signing non-binding business deals worth $250 billion. “I give China great credit.”
It has been a common aspect of the President’s modus operandi when dealing with U.S. and world leaders to be cordial and complimentary towards them when with them or talking to them directly, then returning to negative rhetoric later. This was most clear in his dealings with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.
While the business deals were positive notes for these initial meetings, the topic of North Korea was more severe. Trump called on China to cut economic ties in an effort to make them halt their nuclear weapons program. He said the Chinese President could “easily and quickly” resolve the situation through pressure as the biggest ally to North Korea.
“I know one thing about your president, if he works on it hard, it will happen,” Trump said while addressing the crowd at the signing ceremony. Following light chuckles from the crowd, he added, “They know.”
The total trade relationship between the pair was worth $648bn last year, but trade was heavily skewed in China’s favour with the US amassing a deficit of $310bn.
While still characterising the relationship as “very unfair” and “one-sided”, Trump said on Thursday that China was not at fault, instead blaming previous US administrations.
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