BEIJING -- After days of basking in the flattery of other world leaders, President Donald Trump dished out some of his own Thursday, bestowing kind words and gestures on an unlikely counterpart, China's Xi Jinping, a communist leader who just tightened his grip on power in a country Trump accused during the campaign of "raping" U.S. workers.
Trump called Xi "a very special man" with whom he has "great chemistry." He congratulated Xi on the recent Communist Party Congress, which gave new authority to the Chinese leader. And although he challenged Xi on the economy and the "menace" of North Korea, he cast more blame on his American predecessors than on Xi for the trade imbalance.
"I don't blame China," Trump said at a ceremony involving U.S. and Chinese business leaders. "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."
Xi set the table for the cozy mood by playing the role of gracious host. He unfurled the gilded trappings of the Chinese Communist Party for Trump, complete with goose-stepping soldiers, a 21-gun salute on Tiananmen Square and an elaborate banquet in the Great Hall of the People. At the state dinner, he played a video clip of Trump's granddaughter, Arabella, singing in Chinese, recorded during Xi's visit to Palm Beach, Fla., in April.
In a series of talks with top party leaders under the gold chandeliers of the Soviet-style hall, Trump pressed China to open its markets to more U.S.-made products and do more to push North Korea to give up nuclear weapons.
"Together we have it in our power to finally liberate this region and the world from this very serious nuclear menace," Trump said when the two made a joint statement to reporters, adding that it will require "collective action."
The two leaders didn't take questions from reporters, the first time a U.S. president and Chinese leader haven't done so since George H.W. Bush was president.
Speaking earlier to the business leaders, Trump talked bluntly about the U.S. trade imbalance with China.
"We have to fix this because it just doesn't work," he said. "It is just not sustainable."
Xi was more detached in his comments than Trump, who spoke in personal terms about what he called a terrific initial meeting Wednesday night and a dinner that went longer than expected because the men were having such a great time.