Trump Trade Adviser Warns That There Will Be No Quick Deal With China
WASHINGTON — Peter Navarro, the White House trade adviser, lashed out at Beijing just ahead of a meeting between President Trump and the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, predicting that Mr. Trump would have the “courage” to reject a bad trade deal with China.
Mr. Navarro, a blunt populist who has long held unsparing views about China’s rise, suggested that reaching a trade deal would be more difficult than Mr. Trump’s recent comments would indicate, despite the intervention of Wall Street executives who have urged the president to repair relations quickly.
The United States and China have been locked in a tit-for-tat trade war that many economists believe will eventually be a drag on economic growth. The White House has placed tariffs on about $250 billion worth of Chinese imports and has threatened to tax nearly all Chinese goods if Beijing does not agree to end trade practices that harm American companies, including pressuring firms to hand over valuable technology. China has retaliated with its own tariffs and recently accused the United States of adopting a “winner takes all” approach to trade.
Mr. Xi and Mr. Trump are scheduled to meet in Buenos Aires this month during the Group of 20 conference, and the trade dispute is expected to be a central topic. Mr. Trump has repeatedly said that China wants to make a deal, and on Wednesday he said he was also hoping to reach an agreement with Beijing.
“We’re going to try and make a deal with China because I want to have great relationships with President Xi, as I do, and also with China,” Mr. Trump said at a news conference.
Inside the White House, Mr. Navarro’s broadside was seen as an effort to fend off more moderate trade advisers, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who are trying to soften the president’s stance toward China during the G-20. Mr. Navarro’s remarks contrasted sharply with Mr. Trump’s more upbeat assessment last week, when he told reporters at the White House that he was “getting much closer to doing something” with China.
“They want to get us to the bargaining table, sound reasonable, talk their way and have their way with us,” Mr. Navarro said of China’s trade negotiators, speaking without notes before an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan Washington think tank.
“The biggest problem,” he added, “is the trust issues.”
Mr. Navarro has privately expressed exasperation at the access to Mr. Trump enjoyed by Wall Street executives — whom he terms “globalists” — like Stephen A. Schwarzman, the chief executive of the Blackstone Group, one of the world’s biggest private equity investment firms. Mr. Schwarzman, who speaks with the president frequently on economic matters, has advised Mr. Trump to show restraint with China.
“If there is a deal — if and when there is a deal — it will be on President Donald J. Trump’s terms. Not Wall Street terms,” Mr. Navarro said in his speech on Friday. “If Wall Street is involved and continues to insinuate itself into these negotiations, there will be a stench around any deal that’s consummated because it will have the imprimatur of Goldman Sachs and Wall Street.”
A senior White House official described the comment as a thinly veiled tweak at Gary D. Cohn, a Goldman Sachs executive who served as chairman of Mr. Trump’s National Economic Council until this year and who described the China tariffs as a “tax on Americans” in an interview this week. Mr. Navarro frequently sparred with Mr. Cohn over trade while the two worked together at the White House, and Mr. Cohn ultimately resigned after his views were essentially ignored by the president.
Two White House advisers said that Mr. Navarro was not expressing the president’s views but his own. He did not inform Mr. Mnuchin or Larry Kudlow, who succeeded Mr. Cohn as director of the economic council, that he planned to speak, they said.
Mr. Navarro said during the speech that negotiating the trade deal with China was “not my lane” and that the responsibility would fall to Robert E. Lighthizer, the United States trade representative.
But the two are largely in lock step when it comes to China, and Mr. Lighthizer is pessimistic about the prospects of reaching a significant new deal with Chinese negotiators in Argentina, according to officials with direct knowledge of his views.
At a summit meeting in Washington on Friday, Yang Jiechi, a top Chinese foreign policy official, said the United States and China needed to resolve the trade conflict soon rather than escalate it.
“A trade war, instead of leading to any solution, will only end up hurting both sides and a global economy,” Mr. Yang said at a news conference.
Mr. Yang and the Chinese defense minister, Wei Fenghe, were in town to meet with Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, and Jim Mattis, the defense secretary, as part of a regular dialogue that had been established by the presidents of the two nations.
American business leaders, who have been watching the China talks nervously from the sidelines, have urged the White House to approach the Buenos Aires meeting with an open mind.
“It’s constructive to have both sides talking,” said Erin Ennis, senior vice president of the U.S.-China Business Council, which represents 200 American companies that do business with China.
“If Beijing has something substantive to offer, we should be willing to negotiate. We need to take this seriously,” she added.
Mr. Navarro dismissed previous promises made by Chinese leaders. He singled out unresolved issues around intellectual property protections for American companies, China’s military occupation of disputed islands in the South China Sea and Mr. Xi’s pledge to buy more American beef, made to Mr. Trump during the leader’s dinner with the president at Mar-a-Lago last year.
“Where’s the beef?” he asked.
Edward Wong contributed reporting.
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