President Donald Trump did not mean to suggest that he'd trade away American jobs to try to persuade China to help the U.S. defuse rising tensions with North Korea, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told CNBC on Monday.
Ross, a billionaire who made his fortune investing in distressed assets, added in an interview with CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" that the U.S. is having productive talks with China on a number of issues.
Over the weekend, Trump told a CBS interviewer that "I believe that [Chinese] President Xi is working to try and resolve a very big problem, for China also. And that's North Korea." He was explaining at the time why he's not pushing China on trade, despite his tough talk on the campaign trail.
"I think that, frankly, North Korea is maybe more important than trade," Trump continued on Sunday. "Trade is very important. But massive warfare with millions, potentially millions of people being killed? That, as we would say, 'trumps' trade."
During CNBC's interview, Ross qualified what he believes Trump meant. "I think what the president was trying to say was we're trying to have an overall constructive relationship with China on a variety of topics — the most pressing of which because he involves human lives is the North Korea situation."
"I don't think he meant to indicate at all that he intends to trade