In Discussion Ostensibly About Tax Cuts, Trump Keeps China in Cross Hairs

CLEVELAND — President Trump kept China in his sights on Saturday, using a visit to the industrial Midwest to promote his hard-line trade tactics, while the White House rebuked the Chinese government for demanding that foreign airlines change how they refer to Taiwan.

“We’re going to have to rework trade with China,” he said to an enthusiastic crowd of about 600 in a theater here. “It can’t go on like that.”

Mr. Trump noted that a high-level trade delegation had just returned from meetings in Beijing, and that the administration would consider the next steps in what has become an increasingly bitter confrontation over steel tariffs and China’s theft of American intellectual property.

Just before he spoke, the White House issued a statement sharply criticizing the Chinese government for requiring United Airlines, American Airlines and other foreign carriers to refer to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as part of China on their websites and in other materials.

“This is Orwellian nonsense and part of a growing trend by the Chinese Communist Party to impose its political views on American citizens and private companies,” said a pointedly written statement attributed to the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

“President Donald J. Trump ran against political correctness in the United States,” the statement said. “He will stand up for Americans resisting efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to impose Chinese political correctness on American companies and citizens.”

Mr. Trump used somewhat milder language during his three-hour visit to Cleveland. Gathering a round-table of steelworkers and small-business people, ostensibly to promote the effects of the Republican tax cut, he ended up celebrating seemingly every other aspect of his presidency, including his poll numbers, which he claimed were on the rise.

“They actually say that I’m popular — Can you believe that?” he said, though he went on to complain, “I get nothing but bad publicity.”

If there was a recurring theme, however, it was Mr. Trump’s insistence that he would restore the balance with major trading partners like China. He listened as an Ohio couple, the Thorntons, recounted the hardship they suffered after the steel mill near Youngstown that employed Kevin Thornton shut down — because, his wife, Sharlene, said, of competition from China.

“We almost lost our home,” she said. “We struggled every day to make ends meet.” She thanked Mr. Trump, and his tax cut, for making their lives “more enjoyable.”

The president took credit for the opening of new steel plants and steel mills in the United States. While he repeated his praise for China’s president, Xi Jinping, Mr. Trump said the United States would no longer tolerate running huge deficits with Beijing.

“We’re going to be smart about our relationships with other countries,” he said. “You look at our trade deficits with every other country. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that trade deficits are O.K.”

Despite his occasional wanderings into other subjects, Mr. Trump largely stuck to his script after a wild week in which he spoke off the cuff about issues like his legal troubles and his efforts to win the release of three Americans being held in North Korea.

Mr. Trump had suggested their release would be imminent. But on Saturday, White House officials had no updates on the status of the three: Kim Hak-song, also known as Jin Xue Song; Tony Kim, also known as Kim Sang-duk; and Kim Dong-chul.

Mr. Trump’s trip was intended to bolster the Senate campaign of his preferred candidate, Representative James B. Renacci, who is challenging the populist Democrat, Senator Sherrod Brown, and has allied himself closely with the president. Democrats and Mr. Trump himself are treating the midterm elections as a referendum on his presidency.

The president also attended a fund-raiser with 250 high-dollar donors, netting $3 million, according to the Republican National Committee. The news media was barred from attending.

Mr. Trump steered clear of reporters, shedding no light on the miasma of questions about his knowledge of payments to a pornographic film actress, Stephanie Clifford, after a series of conflicting statements by Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of the newest members of the president’s legal team.

The White House statement on China came in response to a letter that the Chinese Civil Aviation Administration sent last month to 36 foreign carriers, instructing them to stop listing Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau as independent entities.

Beijing regards Taiwan as a renegade province of China, while Hong Kong and Macau are former British and Portuguese colonies that returned to Chinese sovereignty almost two decades ago.

The White House accused China of coercing American companies and citizens, and said it was an extension of the repression it practices on the internet domestically. American companies, it said, should have the freedom to decide how to communicate with their customers.

The sharp response comes at a time of deepening tension between the United States and China over trade and security. The trade meeting in Beijing produced no agreement, even on whether the two sides should meet again.

The White House also warned China of “consequences” after reports that the Chinese government had deployed antiaircraft and anti-ship missiles to three artificial islands in the South China Sea.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A25 of the New York edition with the headline: In Speech That Wandered From Tax Cut, Trump Talks Up His Popularity. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe