As Chinese President Xi Jinping meets for the first time with President Donald Trump at his private Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach today, bilateral trade is sure to be a major topic of discussion between the leaders of the world’s two largest economies.
To better understand the mindset shaping the views of Donald Trump when it comes to China, one really needs to view a 2012 Netflix documentary based on the book “Death by China,” an alarmist polemic written by Peter Navarro, who is now director of the president’s National Trade Council.
According to Navarro, the Chinese government “is a despicable, parasitic, brutal, brass-knuckled, crass, callous, amoral, ruthless and totally totalitarian imperialist power that reigns over the world’s leading cancer factory, its most prolific propaganda mill and the biggest police state and prison on the face of the earth.”
In a blurb on the film’s web page, Trump describes it as “right on” and urges people to watch “this important documentary” that “depicts our problem with China with facts, figures and insight.” Elsewhere, Trump has said that Navarro “has presciently documented the harms inflicted by globalism on American workers, and laid out a path forward to restore our middle class.”
Although most analysts don’t anticipate any significant policy initiatives to be emerging from this initial “ice-breaking” summit, the stakes are still high given the nature of an increasingly fraught relationship that potentially has consequential ramifications for the entire global economy.
In addition to setting the framework for future relations, both leaders will be taking the measure of one another and determining to what extent they can do business on a wide range of pressing international issues.
One of the key challenges for President Trump will be demonstrating that he can make progress on improving the currently strained trade relations with China without making any diplomatic missteps that could unsettle global markets, or worse, even trigger an outright trade war.
How Trump will reconcile the bellicose campaign rhetoric that carried him to victory, in which he vehemently railed against Beijing’s unfair trade and currency practices – often describing them in terms of “rape” and “theft” among other things – with forging a new approach that would pave the way for “better deals” to be negotiated in order to eliminate the enormous trade gap between the U.S. and China within the span of a few years, remains a mystery.
Trump tweeted last week that the meeting would be “a very difficult one in that we can no longer have massive trade deficits and job losses” and told Fox News yesterday “nobody really knows” what will happen at the summit other than it would be “very interesting.”
“We have not been treated fairly on trade for many, many years,” he said. “No president’s taken care of that the way they should have.”