May 15, 2018


President Trump shrinks from another fight with China (John Harwood, 5/15/18,

Strange as it sounded, Donald Trump's reversal on punishing a Chinese telecommunications giant fits his pattern: Facing powerful adversaries, the tough-talking president usually shrinks from a fight. [...]

The administration team he recently sent to Beijing to demand trade concessions from China came back empty. China, from which Trump simultaneously seeks help in nuclear negotiations with North Korea, demanded that he back off ZTE.

So Trump backed off - just as he did upon taking office with his stern promises to declare the world's second-largest economy a "currency manipulator."

President Trump just blinked on China: The president appears to have crawled way out on a limb to make a mediocre deal. (Daniel W. Drezner May 15, 2018, Washington Post)

As the Journal story noted, "The Trump administration worries that a backlash among U.S. farmers to tariffs could endanger Republican efforts to keep control of the House and Senate in midterm elections." The Post story notes:

Talks with China had bogged down in recent days, a potential problem for Trump because he needs Chinese help with the upcoming North Korea summit.

The president has asked several White House advisers recently what the Chinese want and what must be done to advance the trade talks, according to two people briefed on the discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk about sensitive matters.

Trump is determined to make a deal with China and has been told in recent days that relaxing restrictions on ZTE was a "prerequisite" to get the Chinese to engage in substantive discussions.

As the Financial Times editorializes, this is a heckuva way to run a railroad:

Mr Trump's remarkable conversion -- he not only lifted the restrictions on ZTE but actively wished for the company's revival -- appears to be entirely due to exchanges with Xi Jinping, China's president, ahead of a visit from a Chinese delegation to Washington for talks about trade.

In this context, the move fits in all too well with two of Mr Trump's huge weaknesses as a president. First, he is addicted to making deals with other powerful leaders on the spur of the moment and with barely any thought of the consequences either to the goal he is pursuing, or indeed other interests of the US. Second, he has contempt for the normal functioning of government, and particularly the interagency process that painstakingly works out policy in the US's complex and multifaceted administration.

All of this is consistent with Monday's observation that this administration is shorthanded and scrambling when it comes to trade issues.

Posted by at May 15, 2018 3:41 PM