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In Beijing, Trump abandons years of tough talk towards China

It's hard to overstate just how dramatic a departure this is from the American president's previous posturing.
Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger
epa06257124 US President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks to members of the news media while hosting former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (not pictured)...

At a bilateral meeting in Beijing this morning, Donald Trump lamented the U.S.-China trade imbalance, but said he blames "past administrations." In other words, in the American president's mind, the trade gap is the United States' fault.

He reiterated the point at a question-free press briefing soon after.

President Donald Trump said Thursday that he does not blame China for its economic success at the expense of the United States, what he called a "one sided" trade relationship."I don't blame China," he said at a business event joined by Chinese President Xi Jinping. "After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens? I give China great credit."

It's hard to overstate just how dramatic a departure this is from the American president's previous posturing. ABC News did a nice job rounding up some of Trump's most notable quotes on China from the campaign, during which he insisted, among other things, that China is "ripping us off," is an "enemy" of the United States, has perpetrated "the greatest theft in the history of the world," and prefers to "lie, cheat, and steal in all international dealings."

At one campaign event in May 2016, Trump went so far as to say, "We can't continue to allow China to rape our country and that's what they're doing."

Even after the election, the Republican continued to puff out his chest and talk tough, suggesting he was prepared to abandon the "One China" policy and label China a "currency manipulator."

But in a rather humiliating display, Trump abandoned this posture, and soon after taking office, started groveling towards Beijing. Today, he even blamed the United States for the trade policies for which he used to hold China responsible.

The weakness the American president is displaying is extraordinary. Trump has already faced insulting mockery in China's state-run press, and these latest displays won't help matters.

Postscript: China insisted that journalists not be allowed to ask questions at today's press briefing with the two presidents, and Trump and his team gladly went along. In recent decades, American presidents have pushed back against this -- Barack Obama and his team refused to participate in a joint event unless reporters were allowed to have a Q&A -- but Trump didn't bother.

As a result, Trump became the first American president since H.W. Bush not to take press questions during a trip to China.