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President Donald Trump signaled that he was making a major reversal on two campaign promises during an eye-opening interview with The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.
Trump told The Journal he was not going to label China a currency manipulator – something he had promised to do on the first day of his presidency – and that he had turned in favor of the US Export-Import Bank, an entity he railed against on the campaign trail.
Having met with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week, Trump indicated he changed his mind on what was a signature campaign promise: officially labeling China a currency manipulator, or a country that lessens the value of its currency to gain trade advantages.
Trump said labeling China a currency manipulator would jeopardize his discussions with Xi regarding North Korea.
“They’re not currency manipulators,” Trump said.
Trump added that to “solve the problem in North Korea” he would be amicable to a trade agreement with China that does not do quite as much to lessen the trade deficit between the two countries.
“I told him, I said, ‘You know we’re not going to let that [current trade deficit] go ahead,'” Trump said. “‘But you want to make a great deal? Solve the problem in North Korea.’ That’s worth having deficits. And that’s worth having not as good a trade deal as I would normally be able to make.”
The comments were a far cry from statements he made about the US’s trade relationship with the world’s second-largest economy both during the campaign and after he was elected president.
“I beat the people from China,” he said at a rally in South Carolina in July 2015. “I win against China. You can win against China if you’re smart. But our people don’t have a clue. We give state dinners to the heads of China. I said why are you doing state dinners for them? They’re ripping us left and right. Just take them to McDonald’s and go back to the negotiating table.”
Nearly a year later, in May 2016, Trump told an Indiana rally that the US “can’t continue to allow China to rape our country and that’s what they’re doing.”
“It’s the greatest theft in the history of the world,” he continued.
In June, he called Chinese leaders “grand chess masters” at manipulating their currency.
“The single biggest weapon used against us and to destroy our companies is devaluation of currencies, and the greatest ever at that is China,” he said at a New Hampshire rally. “Very smart, they are like grand chess masters. And we are like checkers players. But bad ones.”
Responding to the change, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Trump’s move was”symptomatic of a lack of real, tough action on trade against China.”
“When the president fails to label them a currency manipulator, he gives them a green light to steal our jobs and wealth time and time again,” Schumer said in a statement. “The best way to get China to cooperate with North Korea, is to be tough on them with trade, which is the number one thing China’s government cares about.”
On the Export-Import Bank, Trump said the entity was “a very good thing.”
“It turns out that, first of all, lots of small companies are really helped, the vendor companies,” Trump said. “But also, maybe more important, other countries give [assistance]. When other countries give it we lose a tremendous amount of business.”
The agency is a favored target of the more conservative wing of the Republican Party, which views the bank as part of a “crony” capitalist system.
Early in the campaign, Trump told Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin that he didn’t like the agency, which he said was “unnecessary.”
“It’s a one-way street also,” he said. “It’s sort of a feather bedding for politicians and others, and a few companies. And these are companies that can do very well without it. So I don’t like it. I think it’s a lot of excess baggage. I think it’s unnecessary.”
Discussing the agency with The Journal on Wednesday, Trump said, “Instinctively, you would say, ‘Isn’t that a ridiculous thing.'”
“But actually, it’s a very good thing,” he added. “And it actually makes money – it could make a lot of money.”
Trump also signaled support for Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, whom he criticized during the campaign for maintaining low interest rates.
Elsewhere Wednesday, Trump marked another change in his posture when, during a joint press conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the White House, he said the transatlantic alliance was again worthwhile for the US.
“I said it was obsolete,” Trump said. “It’s no longer obsolete.”
Trump then used Twitter early Wednesday evening hoping to assure supporters he was not flipping on his promises.
“One by one we are keeping our promises – on the border, on energy, on jobs, on regulations,” he wrote. “Big changes are happening!”