President Donald Trump flipped the script in China on Thursday, praising the Asian power for its trade practices after he condemned them on the campaign trail and on Twitter for so many years.
Trump said at an event with Chinese President Xi Jinping that he does not blame China for its economic success at the expense of the United States, NBC News reported, describing the trade relationship as "one sided."
"I don’t blame China," Trump said. "After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens? I give China great credit."
The language struck a different tone from Trump's usual criticism of U.S. trade relations with China. Last year, Trump accused China of "raping" the U.S. and repeatedly accused the country of manipulating its currency.
But because Trump was on their soil, he had nothing but praise Thursday.
"I look forward to many years of success and friendship, working together to solve not only our problems but world problems, and problems of great danger and security," Trump said. "I believe we can solve almost all of them and probably all of them."
Trump's foreign policy team, who traveled with him to China, explained after the joint session why Trump was so jovial to his counterpart.
"I think what [Trump is] saying is that China is pursuing its own national interests," U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad told NBC News. "You can’t blame any country for doing that. We just have to do a better job of doing that for the United States."
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Trump's remarks were "a little bit of tongue in cheek" but also containing a "little truth."
"Look, we are where we are because previous administrations — whether through benign neglect . . . or for whatever reasons — allowed this to happen and allowed it to get so out of balance that now it's not an easy thing to rebalance," Tillerson said.
Trump's trip to China was markedly different from the one former President Barack Obama took in 2014. Obama insisted at the time that he and Xi take questions from the foreign press, a custom not usually honored in China. Xi lectured U.S. journalists at the time, saying that they needed to respect China's laws and regulations.
This go around, Trump instantly caved when China said no press conference. Last year, he lambasted President Barack Obama when China didn't provide a staircase for Air Force One.