Trade surplus unfair but Trump won’t ‘blame China’

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BEIJING — US President Donald J. Trump decried his country’s “one-sided and unfair” trade deficit with Beijing on Thursday, but he told Chinese President Xi Jinping: “I don’t blame China.”

At a signing ceremony for over $250 billion in US-Chinese business deals in Beijing, Mr. Trump said: “After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the sake of its citizens?”

Mr. Trump attempted to shift the blame away from Mr. Xi to prior US leaders, saying they had mishandled the problem. “I give China great credit, but in actuality I do blame past administrations for allowing this out-of-control trade deficit to take place,” Mr. Trump said. “It is just not sustainable.”

Mr. Xi nodded as Mr. Trump said he doesn’t blame China for the trade imbalance. In his own remarks, he did not address Mr. Trump’s charges of unfair trade practices directly but said he is committed to opening up his economy. He cited the new deals as “great examples” of the potential “win-win nature” of ties.

The Trump administration has aggressively pursued trade remedies in commercial relations with Beijing — investigating Chinese trade practices on intellectual property and in aluminum and steel.

Alleged Chinese misdeeds in commerce were a mainstay of Mr. Trump’s populist campaign for the White House but since taking office he has refrained from labeling Beijing a currency manipulator.

Mr. Xi has sought to cast himself as a champion of globalization as the US retreats behind Mr. Trump’s “America First” policy.

But US and European firms still complain about being barred from certain sectors and forced to share their technologies with local competitors to gain access in some industries.

Speaking after talks with his Chinese counterpart, Mr. Trump said that China has to take greater action on market access, forced technology transfers and theft of intellectual property.

“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,” he said.

Mr. Xi delivered a brief speech following Mr. Trump’s remarks, where he said China welcomed the international business community.

“I will encourage Chinese businesses to do more investment in US and at the same time, invite more US companies to take part in One Belt One Road,” Mr. Xi added.

He was referring to China’s Silk Road project to revive ancient trade routes with a massive network of rail and maritime links.

Annually, the US runs a steep trade deficit in goods with China of about $350 billion.

“We may have differences from time to time,” Xi said, but both nations will gain from increased trade.

In later joint statements, Messrs. Trump and Xi both said they’re committed to forcing North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, even as the Chinese leader publicly offered no new initiatives to crack down on regime in Pyongyang.

Mr. Trump said the two countries had agreed to increase economic pressure until North Korea abandons its weapons program and called on all nations to stop arming or trading with it.

But Mr. Xi, in his comments, offered the standard formulation about the Chinese approach to North Korea: “On the Korean peninsula nuclear issue, we reiterated the firm commitment to achieving denuclearization of the peninsula and upholding the international non-proliferation regime,” Mr. Xi said.

He also noted: “As two distinctive countries our two sides may have different views or differences on some issues. This is only natural. The key is to properly handle and manage them.” — AFP and Bloomberg