United States President Donald Trump appears to be saying one thing and doing another as the shadow of a US-China trade dispute looms over the world.
On Tuesday, Trump insisted trade talks with Beijing have not collapsed and described the US-China trade war as “a little squabble” despite the recent escalation.
Expanding on a flurry of 10 optimistic early-morning tweets, Trump told reporters the dialogue with China is “very good”, and he touted his “extraordinary” relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“We have a dialogue going. It will always continue,” Trump said. “We had a deal that was very close but then they broke it. They really did.”
On Tuesday, China’s foreign ministry spokesman said the two sides had agreed to continue pursuing relevant discussions.
Trump appeared to downplay the expanding scope of the trade war, which is already raising costs and disrupting supply chains across the globe.
On Monday, the Trump administration revealed a list of some $300bn in additional Chinese goods earmarked for possible tariff hikes. And China announced it would raise tariffs on $60bn of US imports after Trump hiked levies on $200bn in Chinese goods on Friday.
“We’re having a little squabble with China because we’ve been treated very unfairly for many, many decades,” Trump said, referring to US complaints about Chinese intellectual property and subsidy practices.
Markets responded favourably to Trump’s toned-down rhetoric. After Monday’s trade-related selloff, US stock markets regained their footing on Tuesday to close in positive territory.
‘It will all happen’
Trump tweeted earlier on Tuesday that a deal would happen and that China should buy more US farm products.
“When the time is right we will make a deal with China,” Trump wrote. “It will all happen, and much faster than people think!”
“Hopefully China will do us the honour of continuing to buy our great farm product, the best, but if not your country will be making up the difference,” he wrote in a post assuring US farmers that his administration would protect them.
On Monday, Trump said his administration was planning to provide about $15bn in aid to help US farmers whose products have been targeted by Chinese retaliatory tariffs.
The president’s other tweets on Tuesday referenced the steel industry, trade deficit, US competitiveness and his poor opinion of the World Trade Organization.
He also mentioned the Chinese government’s stimulus capabilities and implied that the US Federal Reserve should follow suit in easing monetary policy.
Trump said on Monday that he expected to meet Xi at the G20 summit in Japan in late June.
Based on the accelerated schedule laid out by the office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) late on Monday, Trump will be in a position to launch 25 percent tariffs on nearly the entire remainder of Chinese goods not currently subject to punitive measures when he meets the Chinese president.
USTR said it would hold a public hearing on the tariff list on June 17, with final comments expected a week later. The list includes a wide range of consumer goods, from mobile phones and computers to clothing and footwear, but it excludes pharmaceuticals, some specialty compounds and rare-earth minerals.
The prospect of the global economy being derailed by the US and China sliding into a fiercer, more protracted dispute has rattled investors.
Some members of the US Congress who have been supportive of Trump’s tough stance on China expressed concern that the president was escalating tariffs without an exit strategy.
“Let’s be blunt: It’s a tax on the American consumer and the American manufacturer … who’s paying about $1.4bn a month in new tariffs,” Democratic Senator Chris Coons said in an interview with the MSNBC network on Tuesday.
Trade talks stalled last week, reportedly after China tried to delete commitments from a draft agreement stating that its laws would be changed to enact new policies on issues from intellectual property protection to forced technology transfers.
“My understanding is that China and the United States have agreed to continue pursuing relevant discussions. As for how they are pursued, I think that hinges upon further consultations between the two sides,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing.
Geng put the blame on Washington for going back on its word during previous rounds of talks.