26 Aug 2019

Donald Trump backflips on China trade war comment

5:52 am on 26 August 2019

Donald Trump wishes he had raised tariffs on Beijing even higher, the White House says, seeking to clarify earlier remarks that suggested the US president regretted his decision to escalate his trade war with China.

US President Donald Trump at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France.

US President Donald Trump at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France. Photo: AFP

Mr Trump raised eyebrows during a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the sidelines of a G7 summit, when he responded in the affirmative to questions from reporters on whether he had had any second thoughts about raising tariffs on Chinese goods by 5 percent.

"President Trump responded in the affirmative because he regrets not raising the tariffs higher," White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in a statement on Sunday.

Mr Trump announced the additional duty on some $US550 billion in targeted Chinese goods on Friday, hours after China unveiled retaliatory tariffs on $US75 billion worth of US goods.

The moves were the latest round in a tit-for-tat trade war between the world's two largest economies that has damaged global growth, upset allies, and raised market fears that the world economy will tip into a recession.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Sunday he did not expect China to retaliate further.

"I think his was an action to respond to their action. So I doubt whether they're going to take another step," he said on CBS' Face the Nation programme. "We'll have to wait and see."

In a separate appearance on Sunday, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping had become "enemies" on trade despite a good relationship in other areas.

"President Xi is still his friend," he said on the Fox News Sunday programme.

"But as it relates to financial issues and trade, we have become enemies. We're not making progress," said Mnuchin, who has been helping lead trade talks with China.

During his meeting with Johnson on Sunday in France, Mr Trump was asked if he had second thoughts about his latest escalation.

"Yeah, sure. Why not?" he said.

The reporter repeated the question and Mr Trump replied: "Might as well. Might as well."

A second reporter followed up again, asking if he had second thoughts about escalating the trade war with China.

"I have second thoughts about everything," Mr Trump responded.

In addition to his decision to jack up tariffs, Trump said he was ordering US companies to find alternatives to doing business in China and move operations back to the US.

Mr Mnuchin said Mr Trump would have the authority to order companies out of China under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act if he declared a national emergency.

Mr Trump said he was not considering taking that action at this time, however.

"I could declare a national emergency. I think when they steal and take out, and -- intellectual property theft, anywhere from $300 billion to $500 billion a year, and where we have a total loss of almost a trillion dollars a year ... in many ways, that's an emergency," he said.

"I have no plan right now. Actually, we're getting along very well with China right now. We're talking," Mr Trump said.

Still, Mr Mnuchin and Mr Kudlow said Mr Trump wanted US businesses to start looking to shift investments away from China.

"We want them to be in places where they're trading partners that respect us and trade with us fairly," Mr Mnuchin said, saying US businesses would be better off relying less on China in the event the trade war lasts for a long time.

- Reuters

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