WASHINGTON — Pressed today about whether China is a friend or foe after Defense Secretary James Mattis filed the People’s Republic under foe, President Trump reflected warmly on his relationship with President Xi Jinping and again praised the communist leader.
While discussing the National Defense Strategy on Jan. 19, Mattis noted “growing threats from revisionist powers as different as China and Russia… nations that do seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models, pursuing veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic and security decisions.”
At a White House press conference today with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Trump was asked about freedom of navigation sail-throughs the U.S. Navy has conducted through disputed areas in the South China Sea, and whether he would like to see the Australian Navy participate directly in those operations.
“We’d love to have Australia involved. And I think Australia wants us to stay involved,” Trump replied.
“I have to say, we’ve developed a great relationship with China, other than the fact that they’ve been killing us on trade for the last long period of time — killing us, absolutely killing the United States on trade. But we have developed a great relationship with China, probably closer than we’ve ever had,” he added.
“And my personal relationship, as Malcolm can tell you, with President Xi is, I think, quite extraordinary. He’s somebody that I like and I think he likes me. With that being said, he likes China and I like the United States. But a lot of things are happening. It’s going to be a very interesting period of time. But we do have to straighten out — and as much as I like and respect — really respect President Xi, we have to straighten out the trade imbalance. So much, it’s no good.”
An Australian reporter then asked Trump about Mattis’ assessment of China, and whether the president agreed about the threat posed by the PRC.
“As far as General Mattis is concerned, I mean, he has that view, and a lot of people have that view,” Trump continued. “China’s tough. They’re getting stronger. They’re getting stronger, to a large extent, with a lot of the money they’ve made from having poor leadership in the United States, because the United States leadership has allowed them to get away with murder.”
“With that being said, I think we can have a truly great, even trading relationship with China. Hopefully, that’s going to work out. And hopefully, the relationship I have with President Xi will make that happen. Only time will tell.”
Turnbull confirmed “that President Trump and President Xi see eye-to-eye in every respect.”
At international meetings, the prime minister added, it’s obvious “the respect that they have with each other.”
“And I think it’s the single most important relationship, between China and the United States,” Turnbull said. “It’s clearly very respectful, very frank, very clear-eyed.”