Trump not having second thoughts on China trade war

Donald Trump admitted on Sunday to having second thoughts about raising tariffs against China, sparking brief hopes of a possible truce in the trans-Pacific trade war. But his spokeswoman later insisted the only regret the president had was not imposing even greater tariffs.

It appeared to be the latest incident in a White House pattern, in which Trump appears to say something conciliatory in public, only for the olive branch to be snatched back by officials.

At a breakfast meeting with the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, Trump was asked if he was rethinking his decision to escalate tariffs against China.

He replied: “Yeah, sure. Why not?”

Asked again, he repeated: “Might as well. Might as well … I have second thoughts about everything.”

White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham, however, said the president’s “answer has been greatly misinterpreted”.

“President Trump responded in the affirmative,” she said, “because he regrets not raising the tariffs higher.”

Trump’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, repeated Grisham’s line.

“That was his thought,” he told CNN’s State of the Union, “it somehow got misinterpreted, I’m not sure he heard the question altogether, it was a very crowded room, I was there. That was his thought, that he needed to go higher.”

Photographers were in the meeting room but were not taking shots when the first question was asked. No one other than the president and his questioners was speaking.

Trump insisted China’s approach to trade had been “outrageous”.

“Presidents and administrations allowed them to get away with taking hundreds of billions of dollars out every year and putting it into China,” he said. The US has long accused China of dumping, forced technology transfers, and wholesale intellectual property theft.

Kudlow said he did not expect China to retaliate against Trump’s latest tariff raise, announced on Friday, telling CBS’ Face the Nation “his was an action to respond to their action. So I doubt whether they’re going to take another step”.

Trump denied he had come under pressure from other leaders at the G7 summit, a club of major industrialised democracies, to ease up on tariffs.

“Nobody’s told me that. Nobody would tell me that,” he said.

But Johnson, speaking alongside him, did object, albeit politely.

After congratulating Trump on “everything the American economy is achieving”, the prime minister added: “But just to register a faint sheeplike note of our view on the trade war: we’re in favour of trade peace on the whole, and dialling it down if we can.

“We think that, on the whole, the UK has profited massively in the last 200 years from free trade, and that’s what we want to see … we don’t like tariffs on the whole.”

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