Trump says he's having "second thoughts" about trade war with China, then takes it back

After seemingly expressing regrets about starting a trade war, Trump later said he wished he'd escalated it more

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published August 25, 2019 10:00AM (EDT)

Donald Trump; Xi Jinping (AP/Getty/Salon)
Donald Trump; Xi Jinping (AP/Getty/Salon)

The White House doubled down on President Donald Trump's aggressive rhetorical posture toward China after the president initially seemed to express regret over starting a trade war with the economic superpower.

"I have second thoughts about everything," Trump told reporters during a breakfast meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in France, according to USA Today. He was answering a question about whether he had second thoughts regarding the escalation of America's ongoing trade war with China, a nation led by Chinese President Xi Jinping. While the remark seemed to indicate regret over the president's belligerent attitude toward China, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham later walked back that sentiment.

"This morning in the (meeting) 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.

At the Sunday event, the president did emphasize that he was not reevaluating his overall stance regarding American trade policies toward China. He claimed that "what (China) has done is outrageous" and insisted that "if I want, I could declare a national emergency" and force American companies to leave China, although he added that he has no current plans to do that. Instead he said that "actually, we’re getting along very well with China right now. ... So we’ll see what happens."

Trump's reference to declaring a national emergency harkens back to a tweet he posted on Friday after China revealed it was slapping tariffs on roughly $75 billion worth of American goods, according to CNN. The president replied by tweeting that "our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China, including bringing your companies HOME and making your products in the USA. I will be responding to China’s Tariffs this afternoon. This is a GREAT opportunity for the United States." After he was criticized for claiming to have powers that he doesn't actually possess, Trump tweeted that "for all of the Fake News Reporters that don’t have a clue as to what the law is relative to Presidential powers, China, etc., try looking at the Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977. Case closed!"

There has been widespread concern that Trump's tariffs on China will ultimately harm the American economy, with Trump himself expressing concern that a recession could hit before the 2020 election and imperil his chances of winning a second term. Last year Ed Gerwin, a senior fellow for trade and global opportunity at the Progressive Policy Institute, told Salon by email that "these new duties are often described as ’tariffs on China’ or ’tariffs on the United States,’ but they’re really taxes on American businesses, workers, and consumers."

He added, "The Administration’s new trade taxes on items like auto parts, electrical components, and machinery will raise costs for American businesses, make it harder for them to compete, and destroy many more American jobs than they protect. And, even if American consumers don’t pay the tariffs directly, they’ll ultimately pay higher prices."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

MORE FROM Matthew Rozsa

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

All Salon China Donald Trump News & Politics Stephanie Grisham Tariffs Trade Trade War Xi Jingping