President Trump told reporters on Sunday that Apple CEO Tim Cook privately made a “very compelling argument” that the administration’s tariffs on Chinese-assembled goods have made an unfair impact on the California-based tech giant, because its chief rival, Samsung, has conducted most of its manufacturing in South Korea and did not have to pay the levy.
The president also issued a stern warning to China, saying there might not be an end to the trade war if the government resorts to “violence” to crush demonstrators in Hong Kong.
Trump announced last week he would delay major new tariffs on China for three months, and his latest comments hinted that more concessions may be forthcoming. The new ten-percent tariffs had been slated to go into effect Sept. 1, and would have affected Apple’s signature iPhones.
“I had a very good meeting with Tim Cook,” Trump said at an airport in New Jersey, on his way back to the White House. “I have a lot of respect for Tim Cook, and Tim was talking to me about tariffs. And, one of the things, and he made a good case, is that Samsung is their number-one competitor, and Samsung is not paying tariffs because they’re based in South Korea.”
Trump continued: “It’s tough for Apple to pay tariffs if they’re competing with a very good company that’s not. I said, ‘How good a competitor?’ He said they’re a very good competitor. … I thought he made a very compelling argument, so I’m thinking about it.”
Earlier in the day, Trump had sounded a note of optimism on China, tweeting, “We are doing very well with China, and talking!”
At the airport though, the president took a tougher stance. He warned that a trade deal would not be possible if the Chinese government used force to crack down on demonstrators in Hong Kong, who largely have been protesting against an extradition bill proposed by Hong Kong’s government that would permit certain extraditions to mainland China.
“I think it’d be very hard to deal if they do violence, I mean, if it’s another Tiananmen Square,” Trump said. “I think it’s a very hard thing to do if there’s violence.”
The president also rebuffed weekend reports that the U.S. was open to doing business with the Chinese telecom giant Huawei. The U.S. had placed the company an export blacklist in June citing national security concerns amid worries that it’s worked with Chinese spy networks.
Reuters and The Wall Street Journal reported that the White House was planning to announce on Monday a 90-day extension to a license allowing Huawei to provide service for U.S. customers. The temporary extension would be intended to allow the company to fulfill orders placed prior to the blacklist taking effect.
“I don’t want to do business at all because it is a national security threat,” Trump told reporters. “We’ll see what happens. I’m making a decision tomorrow.”
Those remarks echoed Trump’s comments at the White House last week.
“We are not going to do business with Huawei,” Trump said at the time. “And, I really made the decision. It’s much simpler not doing any business with Huawei. … That doesn’t mean we won’t agree to something if and when we make a trade deal.”
But, the president’s messaging has not always been consistent on the matter. In June, after meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump had suggested that “we will keep selling” to Huawei, prompting administration officials to walk back the suggestion.
Throughout, Apple has focused its political capital on preserving its profit margins. In June, the company wrote to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to urge the administration not to pursue tariffs against China.
“The proposed tariff list covers all of Apple’s major products, including iPhone, iPad, Mac, AirPods, and AppleTV, as well as the parts and batteries used to repair products in the United States,” Apple said.
“U.S. tariffs on Apple’s products would result in a reduction of Apple’s U.S. economic contribution,” the company continued. “U.S. tariffs would also weigh on Apple’s global competitiveness. The Chinese producers we compete with in global markets do not have a significant presence in the U.S. market, and so would not be impacted by U.S. tariffs.”
In a public-facing news release Thursday, ahead of Cook’s dinner with Trump, Apple highlighted its growing investments in the U.S. economy.
“A significant amount of the jobs Apple supports in the US are found in the booming app economy, which is currently responsible for 1.9 million American jobs — an increase of 325,000 in the last two and a half years,” Apple wrote in the release.
The company noted that it directly “employs 90,000 employees in all 50 states, putting the company on track to create 20,000 new jobs across the US by 2023.”
For his part, Trump seemed receptive to the overtures even before his latest face-to-face with Apple’s CEO.
“Having dinner tonight with Tim Cook of Apple. They will be spending vast sums of money in the U.S. Great!” Trump tweeted on Friday night from Bedminster, New Jersey, where the two also dined last August.
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