Trump praises China’s Xi Jinping for power grab as trade row escalates


US President Donald Trump has praised his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for his recent move to consolidate his grip on power.

“He’s now President for life. President for life. And he’s great,” Trump said in a speech to Republican donors in Florida on Saturday, according to broadcaster CNN.

The US broadcaster said it had obtained a recording of the closed-door remarks made at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

“And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll give that a shot some day.”

US presidents by tradition served a maximum of two four-year terms until president Franklin Roosevelt was elected a record four times starting in 1932. An amendment to the US constitution approved in 1951 limits presidents to two terms in office.

During the remarks, Trump praised Xi as “a great gentleman” and added: “He’s the most powerful [Chinese] president in 100 years.”

Trump said Xi had treated him “tremendously well” during his visit in November.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

China’s ruling Communist Party last month proposed removing a two-term limit on presidential terms, a suggestion almost sure to be adopted by the country’s rubber-stamp Parliament during its annual session starting on March 5.

Passage of the proposed constitutional amendment by the Congress’ nearly 3000 handpicked delegates is all but certain. But observers will be looking to see how many delegates abstain from voting as an indication of the reservations the move has encountered even within the political establishment.

The US president said trade wars were ‘good’, expressing defiance amid global criticism of his plan to slap tariffs on steel and aluminium imports.

Once passed, the constitutional amendment would upend a system enacted by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1982 to prevent a return to the bloody excesses of a lifelong dictatorship typified by Mao Zedong’s chaotic 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.

In the closed-door meeting, Trump also complained about Hillary Clinton not being investigated after the 2016 presidential election, making claims it is a “rigged system” that still doesn’t have the “right people” in place to fix it, during the freewheeling speech.

Trump has also doubled down on his shock decision last week to impose 25 per cent tariffs on steel imports, a move seen by many as being aimed at China.

China's response to Donald Trump's 25 per cent tarriff on imported steel has been muted, so far.

China’s response to Donald Trump’s 25 per cent tarriff on imported steel has been muted, so far. Photo: AP

China so far has been restrained in its response to the decision that has drawn strong condemnation from political leaders and economists around the globe.

China’s commerce and foreign ministries have publicly criticised the decision, and the Commerce Ministry raised the possibility on Friday that China might retaliate. But the threat was carefully calibrated to say that any retaliation would be based on the direct effects of the United States’ actions on China’s own interests.

Those direct effects could be limited. China represents only a little more than 2 per cent of US steel imports, and just 0.1 per cent of China’s overall steel production. China also exports only a very small share of its raw aluminum, which would attract a 10 per cent tariff, production to the US.

European responses have been far blunter, with threats of retaliatory imposts on a range of US exports.

After Trump announced the penalties, EU leaders warned that American goods such as  Kentucky bourbon and Harley-Davidson motorcycles, many of them with roots in the home states of key Republican leaders, would be treated “the same way” if the steel and aluminum tariffs were enforced. Officials from Australia, Canada and other US trade partners also made retaliatory threats.

Trump snapped back on Saturday, threatening the European Union with taxes on cars if the bloc increases tariffs on US companies.

“If the EU wants to further increase their already massive tariffs and barriers on US companies doing business there, we will simply apply a Tax on their Cars which freely pour into the US,” Trump said on Twitter on Saturday. “They make it impossible for our cars (and more) to sell there. Big trade imbalance!”

Trump also complained about the trade deficit, attributing it to “our ‘very stupid’ trade deals and policies”.

Echoing words he used during the 2016 election campaign, Trump said the trade deals give US jobs and wealth “to other countries that have taken advantage of us for years”. They “laugh at what fools our leaders have been. No more!” he added.

Trump has also boasted that trade wars are “good, and easy to win”.

European Commission spokesman Alexander Winterstein said the EU has been preparing for the situation “for a long time”. Winterstein said a decision could be taken when top commission officials meet on Wednesday.

He said the EU will also stand ready to protect Europe’s embattled steel market in case of a surge of imports as a result of the US tariffs. The EU will further seek to settle the dispute before the World Trade Organisation, he added.

Reuters, DPA, New York Times, Washington Post


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