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By Mark Sumner
Donald Trump is tougher at a distance. His speech on North Korea notably dropped the mentions of "little Rocketman" and "fire and fury" once Trump himself was in artillery range. Arriving in China, Trump replaced the vocal criticism of Chinese trading practices with equally loud praise, saying "I don't blame China" for gaining the upper hand in trade deals and "I give China great credit."
Asked about this sudden turnaround by reporters, Trump said ... nothing. Because Trump didn't allow reporters to ask any questions.
"Trump and Xi faced reporters here together for the first time on Thursday, but the two leaders leaders -- the first, a vocal critic of the press and the other an enforcer of strict media censorship -- did not take questions from reporters.
"Trump is the first US President to not take questions alongside his Chinese counterpart during a first visit to the country since President George H.W. Bush."
First US president to ignore the free press ... seems like exactly the sort of title that Donald Trump would earn. Naturally concerned about Trump's cooperation in muzzling the press, reporters put the question to White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who had a ready answer.
"Asked why Trump did not take questions from reporters as his predecessors have done in the past, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said: 'It was at the Chinese insistence there were no questions today.'"
So ... Trump came to China to show how much tougher he is at negotiating than previous administrations, and the first thing he did was let the Chinese tell him that he couldn't talk to the press. That seems a lot less tough than those administrations Trump criticized.
"Then-Presidents Bill Clinton in 1998, George W. Bush in 2002 and Barack Obama in 2009 each convinced his Chinese counterpart to take questions from reporters during his first state visit to China."
Trump began his Chinese visit by rolling over on the fundamental right to a free press, and continued by praising the Chinese government for practices that he had called illegal during his campaign.
Trump is starting out by showing the Chinese exactly what he is -- a bully who's happy to call names from a distance, but who folds like a sweat-soaked napkin face to face. It's what anyone who has looked at Trump's business history would have predicted.