US President Donald Trump has for the first time expressed regret that his trade war with China had spiralled into an international quagmire, answering “yes” when a reporter asked if he regretted the way things had played out.
Asked if he was rethinking the way things had escalated into severe economic penalties between the two countries, Trump responded “Yeah, sure why not. Might as well. Might as well. I have second thoughts about everything.”
Hours later, the White House insisted Trump did not regret his action on China.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement that Trump’s answer to a question about the widening trade war on the sidelines of the Group of 7 (G-7) summit in Biarritz, France, was being “greatly misinterpreted” in the media.
“This morning in the bilateral talks with the UK, the President was asked if he had ‘any second thought on escalating the trade war with China’. His answer has been greatly misinterpreted. President Trump responded in the affirmative – because he regrets not raising the tariffs higher,” Grisham said in a statement
In recent days, China slapped new tariffs on US goods, and Trump responded by jacking up tariff rates on more than $500 billion in Chinese goods. These actions have rattled investors and stoked fears that a prolonged standoff could lead to a global recession.
But Trump showed no willingness to back down, saying “it has to happen.” He accused China of unfair trade practices that he said had to be addressed through tough US measures, no matter the cost.
“I think they want to make a deal much more than I do,” Trump said before a breakfast with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
In brief remarks, Johnson seemed to actually take issue with Trump’s tactics.
“We think that on the whole the UK has profited massively in the last 200 years from free trade,” Johnson said.
Trump and Johnson are in France for the Group of Seven summit, an annual gathering of world leaders where they typically discuss pressing issues.
So far, leaders appear far apart on Trump’s approach to trade, but the American president has complained about the press coverage of his meetings so far, painting his interactions as very successful and cordial.
“Well, we are having very good meetings, the Leaders are getting along very well, and our Country, economically is doing great — the talk of the world!” he wrote on Twitter.
This was one of two Twitter posts in which Trump claimed that the strength of the US economy was the subject of multiple conversations here, although none of the other leaders has publicly made any such comments to corroborate his claim.
Sunday was set to be a pivotal day for each of the leaders, as they wade into thorny discussions about the faltering global economy.
After the breakfast between Trump and Johnson, leaders are also scheduled to hold a roundtable about the economy, which will give them a concrete opportunity to air their concerns.
Trump has at times boasted that the US economy is performing much better than other countries, and he has said there is a global recession that is harming most of the major nations except for the United States.
Other leaders have said Trump’s trade war is causing global supply chains to seize up, and there is evidence the US economy is slowing much more quickly than anticipated.
Just in the past week, Trump has swung wildly in his approach to the economy, saying he is contemplating tax cuts, then saying tax cuts aren’t needed, and then on Saturday saying he planned to pursue tax cuts in 2021.
Trump’s attempt to create a counter narrative at the summit came as other world leaders, in public statements, described the global dynamic as being in a state of crisis. French President Emmanuel Macron caught Trump off guard when during a lunch together he said they needed to discuss ways to address growing tensions over trade.
Johnson has also said he will push Trump to de-escalate trade tensions, and European Council President Donald Tusk questioned Trump’s political motives for dramatically escalating his trade disputes with China in recent days.
The glowing reviews Trump has given the summit so far also conflict with assessments from some of his own aides, who have expressed fury that French officials had steered the subject matter of the summit into areas that Trump has little interest. But other administration officials have said privately that the meetings are going well and have struck a positive tone.
The G-7 countries include the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Canada. The gatherings are typically capped off with a joint statement, known as a communique, that is meant to reflect the leaders’ shared values and goals.
Last year’s summit, hosted by Canada, was a spectacular failure, as Trump attempted to withdraw from the communique after the meeting ended because he felt personally slighted by comments from Canada’s leader, Justin Trudeau.
This year, officials have openly floated the possibility that there won’t even be a communique, trying to downplay expectations at a time when global relations are only worsening.
*Reported by Washington Post
*Updated with Trump’s clarification about expressing regret.