Trump signals softer approach on China before White House shifts again

The White House insisted Sunday that President TrumpDonald John TrumpLawmakers release defense bill with parental leave-for-Space-Force deal House Democrats expected to unveil articles of impeachment Tuesday Houston police chief excoriates McConnell, Cornyn and Cruz on gun violence MORE wishes he raised tariffs on China even higher after Trump indicated earlier that he regretted escalating the trade war with Beijing.

White House press secretary Stephanie GrishamStephanie GrishamSecond appeals court backs lifting injunction on Trump 'public charge' rule Live coverage: Democrats, Republicans seek to win PR battle in final House impeachment hearing White House spokesperson: Pelosi, Democrats 'hate Trump's success' MORE said in a statement that Trump's answer to a question about the widening trade war on the sidelines of the Group of Seven (G-7) summit in Biarritz, France, was being "greatly misinterpreted" in the media.

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“This morning in the bilat 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.

The White House issued the statement hours after Trump indicated that he regretted ramping up the trade war with China, just days after he announced plans to increase tariffs on Beijing.

“Yeah, sure. Why not?" Trump said on the sidelines of the G-7 summit when asked by reporters if he had any second thoughts about escalating the trade war with China. 

"Might as well. Might as well," Trump said when pressed again on whether he had second thoughts. “I have second thoughts about everything.”

Trump made the remarks Sunday alongside British Prime Minister Boris Johnson after a breakfast meeting between the two leaders on the sidelines of the G-7.

Trump also asserted that U.S. allies have not pressured him to scale back the trade war with China, saying they “respect the trade war.”

“It has to happen. China has been — I can only speak for the United States. I can't say what they've been doing to the U.K. and to other places,” Trump said.

"But from the standpoint of the United States, what they've done is outrageous that presidents and administrations allowed them to get away with taking hundreds of billions of dollars out every year, putting it into China," he added.

Later, Johnson delicately registered his objections to the trade escalations, saying the U.K. is in favor of "trade peace" and would support dialing back the trade war.

"But just to register the faint, sheeplike note of our view on the trade war, we're in favor of trade peace on the whole and dialing it down if we can," Johnson said after congratulating Trump on the achievements of the U.S. economy.

Trump’s remarks come as he seeks to tamp down speculation that a recession could be on the horizon.

The trade war with China has been blamed in part for the weakening of the global economy.

Trump and his advisers have sought to highlight the low jobless claims and other statistics, insisting the U.S. economy is strong despite some economists predicting that there could be a recession by 2021.

China announced Friday that it would impose new reciprocal tariffs of $75 billion on American-made auto parts and other products.

Trump responded Friday afternoon, saying he plans to increase the 10 percent tariff on $300 billion in Chinese goods set to go into effect on Sept. 1 to 15 percent on Oct. 1 and increase the 25 percent tariff on $250 in goods taking effect in September to 30 percent the following month.

Trump also said he would “hereby order” American companies to cut ties with China without specifying under what authority he planned to do that. Experts have said that Trump does not have the power to order all U.S. companies to take their business out of China.

Trump said later he was considering using the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which allows a president to regulate commerce during a national emergency. In theory, Trump could declare a national emergency with respect to China in order to block U.S. firms from making some transactions in China. Some experts have said that doing so would be abuse of the law because it is designed to address pressing national security threats and emergencies.

Trump said Sunday that he has “the right” to declare a national emergency on China, arguing it would be appropriate. But he said he has “no plan” to do so right now, asserting that his administration is getting along “very well with China right now” and that Beijing wants to come to the table to make a deal.

“I could declare a national emergency. I think when they steal and take out intellectual property theft — anywhere from $300 billion to $500 billion a year — and when we have a total loss of almost a trillion dollars a year — for many years this has been going on — and in many ways that’s an emergency,” Trump told reporters.

“We're getting along very well with China right now,” Trump continued. “We're talking. I think they want to make a deal much more than I do.”

Trump’s remarks came days after he suggested on Twitter that Chinese President Xi Jinping was an “enemy” of the United States.

Trump also said on Sunday that he was not concerned by the stock market’s reaction to his escalating trade war with China, claiming the market is “doing great” and suggesting some are hoping for a recession to damage his 2020 reelection prospects.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 2.4 percent Friday after the new developments, while the S&P 500 dropped 2.6 percent and the Nasdaq fell 3 percent.

This report was updated at 9:13 a.m.