Trump is hyping up US-China trade talks even as his supporters are bashing the deal

  • President Donald Trump’s administration put out a joint statement with the Chinese government Saturday on the ongoing talks that have had the world fearing a trade war.
  • Trump supporters quickly slammed the statement, which praised “constructive consultations” between Washington and Beijing but lacked any specifics or dollar amounts, despite Trump repeatedly citing specific figures in the run-up to the talks.
  • Trump said he would go after intellectual-property theft, but the statement didn’t say much on that.
  • Also, Trump may be allowing China to pass off trade it already wanted to engage in as a win from the talks.

President Donald Trump’s administration put out a joint statement with the Chinese government Saturday on the ongoing talks that have the world fearing a trade war, and it was quickly slammed by Trump supporters.

But that did not stop Trump from hyping the news on Twitter on Monday. “China has agreed to buy massive amounts of ADDITIONAL Farm/Agricultural Products – would be one of the best things to happen to our farmers in many years!” Trump tweeted.

The statement praised “constructive consultations” between Washington and Beijing but lacked any specifics or dollar amounts, despite Trump repeatedly citing specific goals in the run-up to the talks.

The Trump administration previously announced China had offered a package to reduce the US-China trade deficit by $US200 billion, but China denied agreeing to that and the Saturday statement said only that Beijing would “substantially reduce” the imbalance. The Wall Street Journal described the refusal to be tied down to a dollar amount as a victory for China.

China’s firm stance and refusal to budge apparently didn’t scrap the talks, as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin emerged Saturday saying the trade war and associated tariffs were, for the time being, “on hold.”

Scott Paul, the president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a group that has supported Trump’s steel tariffs, was not impressed by the statement.

“The Administration is making a big mistake in putting the China tariffs on hold,” Paul tweeted. “It’s the best leverage we have right now. China has no incentive to make a real deal. In this round, the art of war has vanquished the art of the deal.”

Lou Dobbs, one of Trump’s most trusted confidants, also criticised the deal, tweeting the “US must export like a superpower not an agrarian developing nation half our size!”

And Dan DiMicco, a former steel industry CEO who also supported the US tariffs, tweeted that “China and friends appear to be carrying the day” in the trade talks and that the results for the US were “not good enough.”

Trump delivers nothing burger on the big game

Chinese steel workerKevin Frayer/Getty ImagesChina doesn’t buy much steel, so tariffs weren’t that important.

Beyond the trade deficit looms the war over China’s alleged theft of intellectual property from foreign firms. Two retired senior Department of Defence officials wrote in The New York Times last fall that Chinese intellectual-property theft cost the US as much as $US600 billion a year, calling it “the greatest transfer of wealth in history.”

Jeffrey Bader, a former US ambassador who has spent decades focused on US-China relations, said at the time that tariffs on products like steel, which China doesn’t buy much of anyway, were small potatoes compared with “the big game” of curbing intellectual-property theft.

“I ask Senator Chuck Schumer, why didn’t President Obama & the Democrats do something about Trade with China, including Theft of Intellectual Property etc.?” Trump tweeted on Monday. “They did NOTHING! With that being said, Chuck & I have long agreed on this issue! Fair Trade, plus, with China will happen!”

By the look of Saturday’s statement, however, Trump’s administration has so far done next to nothing on intellectual-property theft. The statement said nothing of substance on the subject, only that the two parties would “strengthen cooperation” on intellectual-property theft and that China would make or amend patent laws.

Again, without specific goals, there will be no way to measure the outcome of these talks or any agreements.

China to do what it was already going to do

As The Washington Post’s Heather Long points out, most of the specific actions China said it would take in the statement were things China was already going to do.

From Long:

“Chinese factories and cities need more energy, and its people want more meat. It’s no surprise then that China said it was interested in buying more US energy and agricultural products. The Trump administration is trying to cast that as a win because the United States will be able to sell more to China, but it was almost certain that the Chinese were going to buy more of that stuff anyway.”

Far from keeping the pressure on Beijing, Trump seemed to embrace the vagaries offered in the statement and offer some more of his own, tweeting on Monday: “On China, Barriers and Tariffs to come down for first time.”

Saturday’s statement mentions neither borders nor tariffs.

So while Trump may have staved off a full-on trade war between the world’s two biggest economies, it appears he did not meet any of his stated goals and may now be trying to spin a Chinese victory as a diplomatic breakthrough for the US.

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