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Trump Sends Mixed Messages on China, Says Relationship Must Improve

Trump said both countries stand to benefit, but said China hasn't "played by the rules — and now’s the time they’re going to start."
Image: Donald Trump
Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally, Dec. 8, 2016, in Des Moines.Charlie Neibergall / AP

DES MOINES, Iowa — President-elect Donald Trump said at a rally Thursday night that the U.S. relationship with China is "one of the most important relationships we must improve" — and then lobbed a series of accusations against the Communist country.

Trump told the crowd that China hasn’t "played by the rules — and now’s the time they’re going to start.”

"You have the massive theft of intellectual property, putting unfair taxes on our economies, not helping with the menace of North Korea like they should and the at-will and massive devaluation of their currency and products," Trump said, adding wryly, "Other than that, they’ve been wonderful, right?"

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Trump’s comments at another stop on his "Thank You" tour come just days after China expressed their frustration with the president-elect for accepting a congratulatory phone call from the Taiwanese president, a break in decades of foreign policy tradition in which the U.S. doesn’t recognize Taiwan as an official nation.

After the phone call began to draw attention and criticism, Trump’s aides told reporters the phone call was long-planned and an intentional move meant to put pressure on China as part of an overall shift in strategy in dealing with the country, which has long been a U.S. economic antagonist.

Trump also fired off a series of tweets attacking China for its economic policies, and has long pointed to the U.S. trade deficit with China as a major cause of the sluggish economy on the campaign trail.

But on Thursday night, Trump seemed to signal his intention to maintain diplomatic relations with China by appointing Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad as U.S. Ambassador there, who has a longstanding relationship with Chinese leaders and whom the Chinese government has referred to as a "friend."

Related: Donald Trump's Call With Taiwan President Was No Surprise: Official

Trump told the crowd that when he campaigned in Iowa, Branstad would always tell him, "don’t say anything bad about China when you're in Iowa ... I like them and they like me, and we do well with China.”

The president-elect said while many people wanted to be U.S. Ambassador to China — he said of the job, "it’s not bad, you go over there, you live like a king” — he picked Branstad because “he’s not looking to live like a king.

Branstad and his wife are "looking to work on that relationship because he knows the people and the leaders in China for so many years."

Related: China Flew Nuclear-Capable Bombers Near Taiwan Before Trump Call

Then, seeming to speak directly to the people of China, Trump said, “he knew your current leader years ago and he said he will be the ultimate leader when he was just a young guy."

Turning back to the audience at home, Trump promised big things during Branstad’s tenure as governor, telling the Iowa crowd he’ll “deliver results, just like he delivered results for Iowa."

"We’re gonna have mutual respect and China’s gonna benefit and we’re gonna benefit and Terry’s gonna lead the way," Trump said.