By Michael D Shear
US President Donald Trump offered deeply contradictory signals about his trade war with China on Sunday, ending the day by escalating his threats of higher tariffs even as he remained isolated from fellow world leaders on a strategy that has rattled the global economy.
A day after defending his authority to order US companies out of China, Trump started Sunday by conceding that he was having “second thoughts” about a new round of levies on Chinese goods. Within hours, he abruptly reversed himself again, saying that he only regretted not raising tariffs even higher.
The president’s rhetorical whipsaw came against the backdrop of tense but cordial meetings in Biarritz, France. It injected fresh uncertainty into Trump’s efforts to try to change Chinese behavior by gambling on the fate of hundreds of billions of dollars in products that flow between the two countries.
“I think they respect the trade war,” Trump said of his allies assembled here for the Group of 7 annual gathering.
The heads of state from some of the world’s leading democracies treated Trump delicately at the summit in the beach resort in the south of France, hoping to avoid an angry outburst. But several challenged Trump publicly on the issues of trade, North Korea and Russia.
Trump, whose efforts to win approval for a North American trade deal remain mired in congressional limbo, seized an opportunity to demonstrate some concrete progress on trade by announcing that the United States and Japan had “agreed in principle” on a deal to avoid a trade dispute.
As part of the agreement, Japan has agreed to buy “hundreds of millions of dollars of corn” Trump told reporters, adding that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had promised to buy up “excess” corn that had once gone to China.
But that deal is not yet finalized and Trump remains so at odds with many of his counterparts that President Emmanuel Macron of France said it would be ‘‘pointless’’ for the gathering to try and issue its usual joint statement.