Trade war, day 147: This indecision’s bugging me

Foreign Affairs

The indecision from the White House continues. Preparing to depart for Argentina, where he will meet with Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 on Saturday, Donald Trump suggested that his trade war is too profitable to give up, although it appears he still does not understand who actually pays tariffs:

I think we’re very close to doing something with China but I don’t know that I want to do it, because what we have right now is billions and billions of dollars coming into the United States in the form of tariffs or taxes, so I really don’t know.

After taking off on Air Force One, Trump took to Twitter to cancel a planned meeting in Buenos Aires with Vladimir Putin, citing recent Russian aggression toward the Ukraine as the reason. “Without Putin on the schedule, the Xi meeting will get the most attention and raise the greatest uncertainty.”

Xi, meanwhile, wrapped up his brief trip to Spain with the issuance of a joint statement:

The two sides are willing to enhance cooperation through bilateral dialogue in international organisations including the United Nations, the Group of 20, the Asia-Europe Meeting and the World Trade Organisation, amid efforts to promote multilateralism based on the international law and universally recognised norms governing international relations.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the South China Morning Post reports:

About a dozen intellectuals in government-backed think tanks have been calling for key reforms through lobbying Liu [Liú Hè 刘鹤], the country’s vice-premier, and other policymakers “in oral or written forms.” Many of these correspond to America’s demands — such as ending subsidies and preferential treatment, reducing the emphasis on state-owned enterprises, treating companies equally and making China a real market economy, according to sources involved in the endeavours.

Also going on in the background, the Times of India notes that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japanese premier Shinzo Abe, and Trump “will hold their first trilateral meeting this week on the sidelines of the G20 in Argentina.”

And yet another issue that some hope can be resolved at the G20 meeting: A “top U.S. security official has demanded the release of two young Americans who say they’ve been prevented from leaving China,” reports CNN. The New York Times originally broke the story about Victor and Cynthia Liu and their mother, Sandra Han, who have apparently been refused permission by Beijing authorities to leave China since June: China’s tactic to catch a fugitive official: Hold his two American children (porous paywall).

As all this maneuvering ahead of the G20 ramps up, the Wall Street Journal (paywall) offers a deep and worthy dive into both sides of the trade fight, based on hundreds of interviews with officials and business executives on both sides. A key takeaway:

China’s leaders misread Mr. Trump as a businessman first, rather than the politician whose fixation on trade had helped carry him into office. They mistook his Treasury secretary as the key interlocutor, not the White House hard-liners who truly had his ear. And they failed to recognize the growing resentments in the U.S., and the world, about their own winner-take-all approach to trade and economics.

More trade-war-related news:

Previously in SupChina’s trade war coverage:

Trade war, day 146: Talking over Trump on trade