President Donald Trump claimed Thursday that China, a geopolitical rival with whom he has been locked in a months-long trade dispute, is "more honorable" than Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.
"I find China, frankly, in many ways, to be far more honorable than Chuck and Nancy," Trump told reporters from the South Lawn of the White House.
"I think China actually is much easier to deal with than the opposition party," he added.
On Wednesday, Trump walked out of discussions to end a partial government shutdown, now in its third week, calling the talks with congressional Democrats "a total waste of time."
"Just left a meeting with Chuck and Nancy, a total waste of time. I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier? Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!" Trump tweeted Wednesday.
Top congressional Democrats blasted Trump after the Wednesday afternoon meeting, accusing him of indifference to struggling federal workers and not trying to negotiate as the government shutdown drags on.
"Unfortunately, the President just got up and walked out," said Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader. "He asked Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi, 'Will you agree to my wall?' She said no. And he just got up and said, 'Then we have nothing to discuss,' and he just walked out. Again, we saw a temper tantrum because he couldn't get his way, and he just walked out of the meeting."
Tensions between Trump and the Democratic leaders have only escalated in recent days as both sides remain dug in on the issue of border wall funding and the shutdown lingers on.
But frustrations aside, Trump's assertion that China is "more honorable" and "easier to deal with" than Schumer and Pelosi is striking as he is favorably comparing a country that is widely considered the greatest foreign threat facing the US today to democratically elected members of Congress.
Admin officials have sounded the alarm about Beijing
While Trump often touts his relationship Chinese President Xi Jinping, US military law enforcement and intelligence officials have been sounding the alarm about Beijing's efforts to undermine American influence.
Last January, the Trump administration released its National Defense Strategy in which the Pentagon said it now sees China and Russia as "the central challenge" facing the US military.
"Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in US national security," the document said, adding "long-term strategic competitions with China and Russia are the principal priorities for the Department."
US military leaders have often pointed to China's military actions in the South China Sea as evidence of the threat posed by Beijing.
Michael Collins, the deputy assistant director of the CIA's East Asia Mission Center, said in July that Xi and his regime are waging a "cold war" against the US by carrying influence operations around the world. The goal of these efforts is to replace the US as the world's leading superpower.
"A country that exploits all avenues of power, licit and illicit, public and private, economic and military, to undermine the standing of your rival relative to your own standing without resorting to conflict. The Chinese do not want conflict," he said at the Aspen Security Forum.
And just last month, US senior law enforcement officials identified Beijing as the most serious threat to US national security, telling the Senate Judiciary Committee that China is employing various forms of non-traditional espionage to exploit vulnerabilities within the US systems.
"As the United States proceeds a whole of society response to this threat, we must address the vulnerabilities within our system while preserving our values and the open, free and fair principles that have made us thrive," E.W. Priestap, the FBI's assistant director of counterintelligence, said. "What hangs in the balance is not just the future of the United States, but the future of the world."
But trade remains the top priority for Trump, who again insisted this week that negotiations "are going very well."
US and Chinese negotiators wrapped up three days of trade talks in Beijing on Wednesday as they seek a way out of the damaging trade war between the world's two biggest economies.
The meetings in Beijing were the first formal trade negotiations between the two sides since Trump and Xi agreed to a truce at the G20 summit in Argentina last month.
Talks were seen as a litmus test of whether a lasting deal can be reached before March 2, when the Trump administration plans to hike tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from 10% to 25%. Such a move would significantly escalate the months-long trade war.
Uncertainty over whether the two sides can build on the ceasefire agreed by Trump and Xi fueled volatile trading in global markets in recent weeks. But stocks rebounded this week on hopes the talks between the two governments will eventually bring an end to hostilities.
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