President Donald Trump appeared to give China a pass Thursday for engaging in unfair trade practices.
On the campaign trail, the president railed against Beijing for its trade policies, pointing to the $347 billion deficit between the U.S. and China.
“We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country, and that’s what they’re doing,” he said at a rally last year. But, speaking in Beijing Thursday, Trump said he blamed past U.S. administrations, not China for the current state of bilateral trade between the two countries.
“I don’t blame China,” Trump explained, “After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of their citizens? I give China great credit.”
“But, in actuality, I do blame past administrations for allowing this out-of-control trade deficit to take place and to grow,” he added, “We have to fix this because it just doesn’t work for our great American companies, and it doesn’t work for our great American workers. It is just not sustainable. I look forward to working toward that goal and to pursuing fair and lasting engagement.”
Trump’s comments came on the third leg of a five-nation tour of Asia that will take him to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
While the president’s comments were noticeably different from his past rhetoric, there is a strong chance that Trump is simply trying to be polite to his hosts. The Trump administration has demonstrated on numerous occasions that it is willing to antagonize China when the latter fails to uphold its commitments. The president uses a clear carrot and stick approach.
The Trump administration has cracked down on China, America’s largest trading partner, by launching investigations into Chinese theft of American intellectual property, tightening restrictions on Chinese investment in the U.S., and considering setting limits on certain Chinese exports. Trump and Xi are expected to announce $250 billion in business deals during the trip, but more will be needed to significantly affect the imbalances in bilateral trade.
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