“I give China great credit”: Trump praises China for taking advantage of the US in trade

Give credit where credit is due.
Give credit where credit is due.
Image: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
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Donald Trump has had lots of complaints against China since well before he took office in January. Over five years of tweeting, he accused China of being a job stealer, liar, copycat, currency manipulator, a hacker, and a spy that laughs at the US all the time.

On his three-day state visit to China this week, he had been expected to raise with counterpart Xi Jinping practices long complained of by US businesses, including stealing American firms’ intellectual property, forcing technology transfers, and setting high entry barriers for foreign businesses. Above all else, he was expected to raise a longstanding grouse, the US trade deficit with China, already exceeding $200 billion so far this year. Trump and others blame vast Chinese imports into the US for wrecking American manufacturing and jobs.

Trump did allude to those issues in a joint appearance with Xi on Thursday, just after a signing ceremony for a series of deals valued at $250 billion, and said that the “very one-sided and unfair” trade relationship between the US and China must be improved immediately. His next remarks seems to have caught many listeners by surprise.

But I don’t blame China. After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its 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. We have to fix this because it just doesn’t work.

The comments—more back-handed compliment than olive branch—met with (possibly embarrassed) laughter and applause from attendees, which can be heard on state media’s live-stream of the event.

Foreign correspondents at the scene appear to have been taken aback by the US president’s remarks:

Elsewhere in his speech, Trump called on China to put more pressure on North Korea, another contentious issue at the top of his agenda with Chinese leader Xi. “I know one thing about your president,” Trump said. “If he works on it hard, it will happen.”

Trump landed in Beijing yesterday on the third leg of his lengthy Asian tour. Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, showed Trump and his wife, Melania Trump, around the Forbidden City, homes of ancient Chinese emperors, and hosted a two-hour official dinner for them there. Trump arrived in China on the one-year anniversary of his landslide election victory last year—something he mentioned in his speech today and tweeted about while in China.

Trump may hail the billions of dollars in business deals signed Thursday as a sign of a successful China trip, though many of them are no more than non-binding “memorandums of understanding.” One of the biggest deals announced is a joint development agreement, worth up to $43 billion, to develop a liquefied natural gas project in Alaska involving the Alaska Gasline Development Corp and its Chinese state-owned counterparts.

Critics have said that such one-off business deals won’t help much in delivering Trump’s much-wanted structural change in the US-China trade relationship.