The Associated PressWASHINGTON (AP) — The United States and China struck what appeared to be an unusual bargain Wednesday as U.S. President Donald Trump said he will not label China a currency manipulator and voiced confidence Chinese President Xi Jinping will help him deal with North Korea’s mounting threat.
Another result of the diplomatic wrangling: a surprising Chinese abstention on a U.N. resolution condemning a Syrian chemical weapons attack.
In a newspaper interview and a White House news conference, Trump hailed the rapport he developed with Xi during last week’s Florida summit, which seems to have yielded an immediate easing of tensions related to the U.S.-Chinese trade imbalance and efforts to prevent Pyongyang from developing a nuclear missile capable of reaching the United States.
“I think he wants to help us with North Korea,” Trump said of Xi, crediting China in the news conference with taking a “big step” by turning back boats of coal that North Korea sells to its northern neighbor. North Korea conducts some 90 percent of its trade with China.
And in one of the sharpest reverses of his presidency, Trump backed off from a campaign pledge by saying he would not declare China to be a currency manipulator, an action that could have led to higher tariffs on Chinese goods. The accusation had formed a basis of Trump’s argument for lost American jobs, on the grounds that an undervalued currency was boosting Chinese exports and leading to artificially low prices, all at U.S. manufacturers’ expense.
“They’re not currency manipulators,” Trump told The Wall Street Journal earlier Wednesday, saying the country hadn’t been cheating on its currency for months. He said a U.S. declaration of Chinese manipulation could jeopardize talks with China on North Korea.
It’s rare for American leaders to link trade or currency disputes to broader international security efforts against countries such as North Korea. Trump’s predecessors had largely kept such disputes separate.
Asked specifically if his decision on currency was part of an agreement over North Korea, Trump responded: “We’re going to see. We’re going to see about that.”
He also repeated that trade concessions could be on the table for more cooperation on North Korea. He said he told Xi last week: “The way you’re going to make a good trade deal is to help us with North Korea, otherwise we’re just going to go it alone. That will be all right, too. But going it alone means going it with lots of other nations.’”
Trump’s upbeat assessment of the relations with China contrasted with blunt talk about ties with Russia, a country with which he had repeatedly vowed to start a new partnership. Trump told reporters the U.S.-Russian relationship has reached an “all-time low” amid differences over Syria.