Donald Trump knows China. “I’ve read hundreds of books about China over the decades,” he said in his opus The Art of the Deal. “I know the Chinese. I’ve made a lot of money with the Chinese. I understand the Chinese mind.”
He’s applied this mastery of a country comprising 1.39 billion people and 56 different ethnic groups to a trade deal which is in the offing, with memorandums of understanding (MOU) being worked on in areas including agriculture, services, tech transfer, currency and intellectual property. Trump, however, is not a fan of MOUs.
“I don’t like MOUs because they don’t mean anything,” he said during a presidential lecture in front of trade officials and Chinese vice premier Liu He. “To me, they don’t mean anything.”
That is, in a very literal sense, not true. Robert Lighthizer, the White House’s top negotiator, made that clear, turning to the press to clear up any misunderstanding: “An MOU is a contract, it’s the way trade agreements are generally viewed… an MOU is a binding agreement between two people. It’s detailed. It covers everything in great detail. It’s a legal term. It’s a contract.”
“By the way, I disagree,” Trump shot back. Liu burst out laughing.
By way of compromise, Lighthizer suggested that they just call the exact document they had a trade agreement rather than an MOU. “Good, I like that term much better,” Trump nodded.