President Donald Trump stood on Chinese soil Thursday and gave his country's top economic rival "great credit" for trade tactics he said allowed China to "take advantage" of the United States.
Instead, the former real estate mogul and reality television star put the blame on past U.S. presidents for what he called America's "very one-sided" trade relationship with China. As he often does, Trump cast himself as the one man who can reverse the United States' massive trade deficit with the Asian power.
"Right now, unfortunately, it is a very one-sided and unfair one," Trump said Thursday of the Sino-U.S. trade relationship. "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?" the U.S. president said during an event in Beijing with business leaders and senior Chinese government officials. "I give China great credit."
Those lines drew applause from the audience and reflected how Trump often has sharp words and opinions about countries and individuals -- until they are on the same continent or occupying the same room. Multiple times on his ongoing Asia tour, Trump has told reporters how he gets along with Asian leaders or is "friends" with them. While he has had tough words and demands of China from Washington, he took a different tack while visiting the country.
"But, in actuality, I do blame past administrations for allowing this out-of-control trade deficit to take place and to grow," Trump said, echoing a theme from his 2016 campaign that America has been run by "stupid" people for the last three decades.
At another event Thursday in Beijing with Chinese President Jinping Xi, Trump said he has "great respect" for the Chinese leader on trade and again blamed past U.S. presidents for the imbalance.
"Too bad that past administrations have allowed it to get so out of kilter," he said, according to a pool report filed by reporters traveling with the president.
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative puts America's trade deficit (goods and services) with China at $309.6 billion in 2016.
Just as he did as a candidate, Trump described himself as the kind of tough negotiator that can reverse that figures.
"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," he said. "I look forward to working toward that goal and to pursuing fair and lasting engagement.
At one point Thursday, Trump-the-fixer declared of the two economic powers' trade relationship: "We'll make it fair and it'll be tremendous to both of us."
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