President Donald Trump said in Beijing on Thursday that he doesn’t fault China for a “very unfair and one-sided” trade relationship with the United States — instead laying the blame with past U.S. administrations.
“Right now, unfortunately, it is a very unfair and one-sided one,” Trump said at an event with business leaders in Beijing. But the president added, “I don’t blame China. After all, who can blame a country for taking advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens?”
It was a measured tone for Trump, who also limited criticism of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Instead, Trump praised his Chinese counterpart as a “very special man” and paid tribute to his strength and ability to get things done. Trump also said he and Xi had “great chemistry.”
Trump’s tone could frustrate some of the president’s conservative allies, including former chief strategist Steve Bannon, who has called for a much more aggressive approach to Beijing.
On North Korea, Trump called for China to do more, while also asserting that Xi was a strong leader.
Xi, for his part, said in his remarks at the event that it was “natural” for the U.S. and China to sometimes disagree. The Chinese leader emphasized that the two countries needed to work together on key issues, however.
Trump’s comments in Beijing, on trade and on North Korea, toed a line between his presidential campaign rhetoric, in which he frequently criticized China, and a more measured, diplomatic tone that reflected his needs as president. While Trump made clear that he feels the U.S.-China relationship needs to change, his rhetoric was nowhere near the scathing tone he used during the 2016 race.
At a joint press statement with Xi, Trump took no questions — eschewing more than 20 years of U.S. presidential tradition in that regard. Instead, Trump offered warm words to his Chinese counterpart and for his warm welcome to the country.
At another point, Trump identified Xi as someone with similar values, particularly on national security.
“I have been very encouraged by all my conversations and, in particular, last night with President Xi,” Trump said. “We’re very much on the same plane when it comes to security. We both want it for our country and for the world.”
On North Korea, for instance, Trump called for China to do more, while also asserting that Xi was a strong leader who could take action quickly if he chose to.
“China can fix this problem easily and quickly,” he said at an event with business leaders. “And I’m calling on China and your president to hopefully work on it … and work on it hard.”
Trump and Jinping meet business leaders in Beijing | Thomas Peter-Pool/Getty Images
He added: “I know one thing about your president. If he works on it hard, It’ll get done.”
Trump seemed to relish the welcome from China — his visit included a lavish tour, full coverage on state TV and a tour of the Forbidden City. It was, Trump said, “an incredible welcoming ceremony, truly memorable and something I’ll never forget.”