US President China trade stance has political risks

Vastavam web: When he ran for president in 2016, Donald Trump delighted crowds with his harsh rhetoric on China. As he runs for re-election in 2020, he is likely to keep talking tough, but the reception – at least in some key states – may not be as euphoric. Trade talks between the United States and China ran into serious trouble last week as Beijing backtracked on some key agreements and Trump placed higher tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese goods, with more to follow.

The trade war could continue for some time, bleeding directly into Trump’s efforts to win a second four-year term. Some states that helped propel him to victory in 2016, including farmer-heavy Iowa, have been hit hard by the trade dispute. Soybeans are the most valuable U.S. farm export but shipments to China dropped to a 16-year low in 2018.

The failure to reach a deal that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other advisers had recently suggested was close also casts a shadow on Trump’s self-proclaimed deal-making prowess. The president himself said recently that Chinese President Xi Jinping would be in Washington soon, presumably to celebrate a deal.

Trump’s advisers are confident, particularly with regard to U.S.-China policy, that a show of strength will play well with his base.

“By and large I think his tough stance on China benefits him overall,” said Sean Spicer, Trump’s former White House spokesman and a former official in the U.S. Trade Representative’s office under Republican President George W. Bush. “He has shown that he is truly willing to go out and fight.”

Trump’s top trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, has pushed for China to change its practices on intellectual property, forced technology transfer, currency manipulation, and other areas of policy.