Trump in a China shop?
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
"We can't continue to allow China to rape our country and that's what they're doing," Donald Trump told a campaign rally in May 2016, "It's the greatest theft in the history of the world."
At another event, a month later, the presidential candidate said he would stop the "theft of American trade secrets" by using every lawful presidential power to remedy trade disputes, arguing it would be "very easy, this is so easy".
He added: "And I have been talking about China for many years. And you know what? Nobody listened. But they are listening now. That, I can tell you."
Fast forward to one year after his election victory, and 10 months in office, and the president has not used his "very easy" presidential powers - and he has toned down his language on China. Instead of branding the country as America's "economic enemy", he lavished praise on his hosts during Trump's first presidential visit to the country. Speaking at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, he told American and Chinese business executives: "Who can blame a country for being able taking advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens?"
CNN calls his absolution of Chinese blame on trade matters a "stunning statement", as President Trump "trades barbs for flattery in gambit to win over China" compared to the vilification that came from candidate Trump. In his latest stop on the president's two-week Asia trip, he was greeted by "elaborate pageantry" and an "outsized display of flattery" at the signing ceremony for the $250 billion in US-Chinese business deals.
While his new love affair with China over trade is new, another tactic to justify this change of heart was straight out of the Trump playbook. He shifted the blame for trade inbalance from China to his predecessors, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Trump said: "I give China great credit. But in actuality I do blame past [US] 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 … it is just not sustainable.
“It's too bad that past administrations allowed it to get so far out of kilter.”
The visit saw the US president resume his cordial relationship with Chinese leader, Xi Jinping. He called Xi "a very special man" with whom he has "great chemistry" and feels incredible warmth.
Reporting from Beijing, the BBC's John Sudworth notes: "You'd be forgiven for forgetting that the two men at the centre of this blossoming bromance are meant to be strategic rivals."
He also observes that Trump had another gift for his Chinese host - both men refused to take questions from the press. Sudworth adds: "US presidents used to stand up for press freedom on visits to China. Not this one." This is the first time a US president has failed to do so with a Chinese leader since George H. W. Bush.
Donald Trump will leave behind the pomp and ceremony in China, and extravagant flattery, today as he heads to Vietnam. The president will participate in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders meeting, and attend bilateral meetings with president Dan Trai Quang in Hanoi.