US President Donald Trump (R) welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) to the Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Florida, on April 6, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON        (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Trump: Soften my stance on China? Who, me?
01:10 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

President Trump listed two key reasons for his change in rhetoric towards China

One had to do with North Korea and the other seemed to be his affinity for the Chinese leader

Washington CNN  — 

President Donald Trump told Fox and Friends on Tuesday he didn’t live up to a campaign promise to stare down China over manipulating its currency because, well, he got along better than he thought with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“I didn’t soften my stance,” Trump said. “Look, China came to the United States, the President, who I really developed a very good relationship with. I think he is a terrific person. I really got to know him very well over a two-day period. we were together hours and hours and hours by ourselves. We had a 15-minute scheduled meeting and it lasted for three hours. the same thing happened the next day. We have a good chemistry together.”

It’s hard to see how Trump is not changing his stance, since one of the pillars of the economic plan he released in June of 2016 called for the president to instruct “the Treasury Secretary to label China a currency manipulator.”

That was nearly a year ago. In the interim, Trump won the White House, meaning the people he’s now trying to convince — Chinese leaders — are less receptive to his threats than American voters. By way of explanation, Trump said China is changing its stance on North Korea and he didn’t want to jeopardize those actions by bringing up the economic issues.

“What am I going to start trade war with China in the middle of him working on a bigger problem with North Korea?” Trump said. “I’m dealing with China with great respect. I have great respect for him. We’ll see what he can do. Maybe he won’t be able to help. That’s possible. I think he is trying. Maybe he won’t be able to help. That’s a whole differential story.”

Trump later added:

“What am I going to do in the middle of him talking to North Korea? I’m going to hit him with currency manipulation? This is a fake media that does a number - think of it. (Xi) is working so nicely that many coal ships have been sent back. Fuel is being sent back. They’re not dealing the same way. Nobody has ever seen it like that. Nobody has ever seen such a positive response on our behalf from China. The fake media goes, ‘Donald Trump has changed his stance on China.’ I haven’t changed my stance. China is trying to help us. I don’t know if they’re going to be able to or not. But why would I want to start heavy heavy trade or currency statements against somebody who is out there right now trying to stop what could be a very bad situation. You understand that.”

Trump was referring to reports that China had turned back North Korean coal ships to apply pressure over Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear programs. While North Korea negotiations are a totally valid diplomatic reason to change a campaign stance, Trump’s reversal on one of the central arguments of his campaign is jarring. Additionally, Trump and Xi agreed to a 100-day period for trade negotiations.

Trump’s review of their meeting wasn’t the only bit of friendliness we learned about Tuesday. Ivanka Trump was awarded trademarks in China (and on the same day she dined with the Chinese President during his visit for talks at President Trump’s private club Mar a Lago).

It’s not the first time this year the Chinese have awarded trademarks to a Trump brand. The Trump Organization got trademark approval in China in February for a trademark they had been seeking for years.

And while it should be noted that Trump spent Tuesday in Wisconsin, where he signed executive actions to review existing laws meant to use federal funds only to “buy American” and more stringently adhere to visa rules for temporary foreign workers, the tensions between Trump the businessman and Trump the president remain.

Where the two break apart — and where they meet — are especially difficult to discern with Trump still unwilling to release his tax records. Is it a smoking gun? No. But it is yet another example of how business interests of the President and his family, even held at arm’s length, can complicate their work for the American people.