White House clears air over Trump signal of trade war regret


Donald Trump acknowledged having second thoughts on escalating the trade war with China - only for his top spokeswoman to later say he meant he regretted not raising tariffs even more.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham now says the media misinterpreted Trump's initial remarks. Trump does not regret starting a trade war but he does have second thoughts on whether he should have hit the Chinese even harder.

"The president was asked if he had 'any second thoughts 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.

The initial remark drew worldwide headlines because Trump is rarely one for second-guessing himself, and instead goes bigger on his ideas in the face of criticism. Grisham's explanation is more in the line with the Trump the G7 nations know and who often drives them to distraction.

The remarks came as Trump was meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He was asked whether he had "any second thoughts on escalating the trade war" with China, after he announced higher tariffs on Friday.

"Yeah, sure, why not?" Trump replied. Reporters asked again whether he had second thoughts. "Might as well, might as well," he replied, before reporters asked again. "I have second thoughts about everything," he said.

Trump has seen his poll numbers sag ahead of his 2020 reelection bid as consumers sour on his aggressive trade stance against China. Trump has bet his reelection chances on a strong economy and, with worries of recession growing among some economists, has insisted fears of an economic slowdown are overblown.

Trump was also asked whether allied nations at the summit were pressing him to give up on the trade war. "No, not at all, I haven't heard that at all," he replied.

In fact, European members of the G7 have repeatedly expressed concern over the trade war's threat to the wider global economy. Johnson was the latest, telling Trump at their meeting: "Just to register the faint, sheep-like note of our view on the trade war, we're in favor of trade peace on the whole, and dialing it down a beat."

On Friday, Trump responded to a new hike in Chinese tariffs on US goods by imposing heavy extra levies against a total of US$550 billion (HK$4.3 trillion) on Chinese imports. But Trump said he would hold off on declaring a national emergency to invoke an obscure law that he says gives him the power to order US companies out of China.

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