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Trump: 'I don't blame China' for US-China trade imbalances 

Thomas Peter-Pool/Getty Images(BEIJING) -- President Donald Trump has long criticized the trade imbalance between the United States and China -- even saying it amounted to economic "rape.”

But while in Beijing on Thursday, Trump took a much softer line.

"I don’t blame China," Trump said. "Who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country to the benefit of its citizens?”

Instead, the president placed blame on his predecessors.

“I do blame past [U.S.] administrations for allowing this out-of-control trade deficit to take place and to grow,” Trump said. “We have to fix this because it just doesn't work for our great American companies and it doesn't work for our great American workers. It is just not sustainable.”

The president's remarks came during a signing ceremony in Beijing, during which $250 billion worth of U.S.-China business agreements were announced. During the ceremony, Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping sat in arm chairs on a dais as U.S. and Chinese business leaders walked up to a table to sign multiple "memorandums of understanding" for future business deals. Many those were non-binding agreements and are years away from taking effect.

The president's remarks about shifting blame away from China for the trade imbalance is in direct contrast to his statements while on the campaign trail.

During an interview with Good Morning America in November 2015, Trump labeled China an “economic enemy."

“They have taken advantage of us like nobody in history," Trump said. "It's the greatest theft in the history of the world what they've done to the United States. They've taken our jobs."

At a campaign rally in Fort Wayne, Indiana in May 2016, Trump echoed that sentiment.

"We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country. And that’s what they’re doing,” Trump said. “It’s the greatest theft in the history of the world.”

At Thursday's signing ceremony in Beijing, the president went on to thank Xi for his recent efforts to restrict trade and cut off banking ties with North Korea. He also said he believed Xi could fix the North Korea nuclear problem.

“China can fix this problem easily and quickly, and I'm calling on China and your great president to hopefully work on it very hard,” Trump said. “I know one thing about your president. If he works on it hard, it will happen, there’s no doubt about it.”

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