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BIARRITZ, France — President Donald Trump signaled Sunday that he may be having regrets over his trade war with China, but the White House backtracked a few hours later and said he had been misunderstood.
At a breakfast meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Trump said “yeah” when a reporter asked if he was having second thoughts about how the trade conflict with China has escalated.
“I have second thoughts about everything,” he said.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham later issued a statement seeking to clarify Trump’s comments and suggesting the only thing he regrets is not placing higher tariffs on Chinese goods.
“This morning in the (meeting) with the UK, the president was asked if he had ‘any second thought on escalating the trade war with China,'” Grisham said in a statement. “His answer has been greatly misinterpreted. President Trump responded in the affirmative — because he regrets not raising the tariffs higher.”
A transcript of Trump’s exchange with reporters shows that he was asked three times whether he had any regrets on the trade tensions with China. Each time, he indicated that he did.
Trump’s remarks, on the second day of the annual G-7 gathering of leaders of the world’s most industrialized countries, came just days after he ramped up the trade conflict by raising tariffs on $550 billion in Chinese goods.
Trump said Friday he would raise from 25% to 30% U.S. tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese products and would increase from 10% to 15% new tariffs on a remaining $300 billion in goods — some of which are set to take effect next month. The announcement came shortly after China said it would levy its own tariffs on U.S. imports, prompting a market sell-off.
Though Trump’s remarks on Sunday hinted at regrets, he said the escalating trade war with China is necessary because of what he considers Beijing’s unfair trade practices.
“What (China) has done is outrageous,” he said.
Trump said he has “no plans right now” to follow through on his threat to use a national security law to declare an emergency and force U.S. companies to leave China. But he insisted he has the authority to do so.
“If I want, I could declare a national emergency,” he said. But, “actually, we’re getting along very well with China right now. … So we’ll see what happens.”
Other G-7 leaders have raised concerns about the trade conflict between China and the U.S.
In what could be read as an effort to put some distance between the U.S. and the U.K. posture on global trade, Johnson told reporters on Saturday that he was concerned about the escalating trade war between the U.S. and China and suggested a “dialing down” of tensions.
“Just to register the faint, sheep-like note of our view on the trade war, we’re in favor of trade peace on the whole, and dialing it down if we can,” Johnson said at Sunday’s breakfast meeting with Trump.
The two leaders then parried gently on trade.
“On the whole, the UK has profited massively in the last 200 years from free trade, and that’s what we want to see,” Johnson said. “And so we’re keen to see —we don’t like tariffs on the whole.”
“How about the last three years?” Trump interjected, suggesting the approach the west has taken on trade has not been as prosperous recently.
“Don’t talk about the last three,” Trump joked. “Two-hundred, I agree with you.”
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