Beijing (dpa) – President Donald Trump blamed past US administrations for the trade deficit with Beijing, and not the Chinese, as he praised President Xi Jinping while also urging him to contain North Korea's nuclear threat.
On Thursday, Chinese and US business executives signed agreements worth 250 billion dollars during a meeting at the Great Hall of the People presided over by Trump and Xi.
"We must immediately address the unfair trade practises that drive this deficit," Trump said during his first visit to China.
"We really have to look at access, forced technology transfer, and the theft of intellectual property, which just by in and of itself is costing the United States and its companies at least 300 billion dollars a year."
The US-China trade relationship "right now unfortunately ... is a very unfair and one-sided one," Trump said.
The two presidents sat on beige leather armchairs at the front of the room while US business delegates from fields such as energy, manufacturing and aviation took turns signing the deals with their Chinese counterparts.
Trump softened his long-held criticism that China is stealing US jobs and manipulating its currency to get unfair trade advantages.
"But I don't blame China, after all, who can blame a country for taking advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens," Trump said, blaming instead past US administrations for allowing the trade imbalance to persist.
Although many of these agreements are not fixed, they will be seen as a political win for Trump at home to the extent to which they will manage to reduce the US trade deficit with China, which Trump has long lamented.
It was unclear, however, how many of the deals were built on pre-existing ties and bound together into one impressive-looking package.
"Those deals made Trump feel important and respected, as well as offered him some practical benefits," said Cheng Xiaohe, a professor of international politics at Renmin University. "It's a huge success for him, and it will help him improve his terrible situation back home."
Among those signing business agreements were executives from Goldman Sachs, Boeing and General Motors, as well as the governor of Alaska. A delegation of more than 20 businesspeople joined Trump in Beijing.
Boeing announced it would sell 300 aeroplanes valued at more than 37 billion dollars as part of an agreement signed with China Aviation Suppliers Holding Company.
Alaska Governor Bill Walker signed a deal with Chinese oil giant Sinopec, the Bank of China and China Investment Corp to build a natural gas pipeline.
And Qualcomm signed pacts worth 12 billion dollars with Chinese handset makers Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo.
In total, 15 documents were signed in areas such as shale gas, liquefied natural gas, industrial cooperation and aircraft engines.
Earlier, Xi said China-US relations are "at a new historic starting point."
Trump agreed that "there can be no more important subject than China-US relations," while pressing Xi to do more to rein in North Korea.
"China can fix this problem easily and quickly," Trump said, calling on Xi to "work on it very hard."
"I know one thing about your president. If he works on it hard, it'll get done," Trump said, adding that "time is quickly running out, and we have to act fast."
Trump arrived in Beijing on Wednesday as part of a five-nation Asia tour to strengthen alliances, promote trade and call on governments to isolate North Korea. Before China, he visited Japan and South Korea.
Beijing had prepared a "state visit-plus" experience for Trump and first lady Melania Trump in what observers have dubbed a "charm offensive."
On Wednesday, the Trumps had tea with Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, in the Forbidden City, followed by a colourful performance of Peking opera and a private dinner.
Xi and Peng hosted a state dinner for the Trumps on Thursday night.
Early Friday, Trump will fly to Vietnam, where he will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.