Critics fear China has trade edge over Trump

US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping during a meeting on Nov 9 last year in Beijing. US administration officials have tried to cast the latest trade talks as a victory, but some supporters of Mr Trump questioned if he had blinke
US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping during a meeting on Nov 9 last year in Beijing. US administration officials have tried to cast the latest trade talks as a victory, but some supporters of Mr Trump questioned if he had blinked in the first major confrontation with China.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump's tough-guy persona is taking a beating from China, judging from the reactions of some of his allies on Capitol Hill and in the trenches of the trade wars.

The former business executive, who prides himself on his negotiating savvy, is facing criticism for bending to China on two key trade disputes in the space of a week, alarming supporters who had welcomed his call for a more confrontational approach to Beijing.

On Sunday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the administration had put its trade war with China "on hold" after two days of talks in Washington that he said had produced an agreement on increased Chinese purchases of American products and measures to make it easier for US firms to operate in China.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will be dispatched to Beijing next week to work out the details of accelerated Chinese purchases, said Mr Mnuchin, who led the US delegation in the talks with a Chinese team headed by Vice-Premier Liu He.

Even though the agreement lacked the specific US$200 billion (S$269 billion) reduction in the US trade deficit with China that was Mr Trump's signature demand on trade, the US leader halted tariffs he had threatened to impose on US$50 billion of Chinese products.

In an earlier sign of softening, Mr Trump directed administration officials to consider easing harsh penalties on Chinese telecom firm ZTE which had violated US sanctions on Iran and North Korea.

US officials have tried to cast the trade talks as a victory, but some supporters of Mr Trump questioned if he had blinked in the first major confrontation with China.

Meanwhile, Senator Marco Rubio tweeted that by continuing to talk while putting tariffs on hold, "China has out-negotiated the US again".

Settling for Chinese promises of increased purchases of American goods and improvements in intellectual property laws marked a shift for the administration, which disparaged earlier US diplomatic dialogues with China as fruitless.

Yesterday, Mr Trump said China had pledged to buy "massive amounts" of US agricultural products but gave no other details about Beijing's planned commitments.

"Fair Trade, plus, with China will happen!" Mr Trump wrote in a series of posts on Twitter. "China has agreed to buy massive amounts of ADDITIONAL Farm/Agricultural Products - would be one of the best things to happen to our farmers in many years!" he wrote.

WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 22, 2018, with the headline 'Critics fear China has trade edge over Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe