NEW YORK -- U.S. President Donald Trump stepped up his criticism of China on Wednesday, accusing Beijing of interfering in the U.S. election process and suggesting that his warm relations with Chinese President Xi Jinping may have ended.
"Trillions and trillions of dollars [were] taken out of the United States for the benefit of China, and we just can't have that," Trump told reporters at a rare news conference in New York. "We have to make it fair. So we're at $250 billion now, at 25% interest, and a lot of money is coming into our coffers," he said of the tariffs his administration has levied against Beijing.
"I like China and I like President Xi a lot," Trump said, settling into his usual pattern of praising the leader whom he first developed a rapport with last year over plates of chocolate cake at the Mar-a-Lago resort he owns in Florida. "I think he's a friend of mine. He may not be a friend of mine anymore."
China is now having "big problems," the president said. "I don't want them to have problems. But they've got to make a fair deal."
Earlier on Wednesday, while presiding over a United Nations Security Council meeting on the nonproliferation of WMDs, the president broke from the topic at hand to accuse China of meddling in the U.S. midterm elections.
Trump suggested that China is seeking to interfere in retaliation for Washington's success in the trade war. "They do not want me, or us, to win because I am the first president ever to challenge China on trade," he said.
Asked what evidence he had to support his claim, Trump suggested that evidence would eventually "come out," but said that he was not able to speak about it at this time.
Beijing denied the charge immediately. "We did not and will not interfere in any country's domestic affairs. We refuse to accept any unwarranted accusations against China," said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who was representing China at Wednesday's Security Council meeting.
In a tweet, Trump said that China was "placing propaganda ads in the Des Moines Register and other papers made to look like news." The Des Moines Register is a local Iowa newspaper. A major producer of soybeans, Iowa was among the hardest-hit states after Chinese retaliation to Trump's first round of tariffs on Chinese goods.
The tweet also included images of the pro-China articles featured in the China Daily-sponsored ad, which included articles with titles such as, "Duel undermines benefits of trade" and "Beijing can set an example for the world."
The ads were placed "because we are beating them on Trade, opening markets, and the farmers will make a fortune when this is over!," the tweet suggested.
Trump's unexpected charge against China comes after a sharp speech in front of the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, in which the American leader used the global stage to slam China for harming U.S. workers and maintaining a trade imbalance.
"China's market distortions, and the way they deal, cannot be tolerated," he said in his speech, suggesting that the trade imbalance was "not acceptable."
But despite the chill in relations between the leaders of the world's two largest economies, the president took a lighthearted attitude toward his relationship with Xi.
"I think we still probably have a very good relationship. But you know what?... I will, tomorrow, make a call to [Xi] and say, 'Hey, how you doing,' OK. 'You don't mind paying billions of dollars a month on tariffs?'" the American president joked.