Meeting Xi Jinping, Donald Trump readies hard line on trade with China

China's Xi Jinping dines with US President Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
US President Donald Trump (right) welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping to the Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Florida.
US President Donald Trump (right) welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping to the Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Florida.PHOTO: AFP

PALM BEACH, Florida (NYTIMES) - The Trump administration is planning to roll out its first concrete measures against China on trade, administration officials said on Thursday (April 6), hardening its position toward America's largest trading partner just as President Donald Trump welcomed President Xi Jinping of China to his seaside club here for their first face-to-face meeting.

Sometime after Xi leaves the United States, these officials said, Trump plans to sign an executive order targeting countries that dump steel into the US market, an aggressive measure aimed mainly at China.

It is unclear exactly what the order would do or how harsh it would be, but it would be designed to begin to make good on Trump's promise during the campaign to redress China's huge trade surplus with the United States.

In addition, an official said, the White House is moving out a senior economy policy official, Andrew Quinn, who had helped negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, former President Barack Obama's signature trade initiative.

Quinn had become the subject of a battle between two camps in the White House: economic nationalists, who wanted him out, and more mainstream backers of free trade, who defended him.

Taken together, these developments constituted a potentially significant victory for the hard-liners, coming off a string of setbacks in their efforts to persuade the president to deliver on the most combative anti-free-trade planks of his presidential campaign.

But the ultimate outcome of this policy debate is still far from clear, several officials said. Trump does not plan to confront Xi with the most aggressive of his campaign threats: a 45 per cent tariff on Chinese goods.

Nor is the United States likely to designate China a currency manipulator, something he promised to do as a candidate. Holding back those moves suggests Trump is also heeding the more moderate voices among his advisers, who argue that the United States cannot afford to ignite a trade war with China.

"The nativist and nationalist forces certainly have influence," said Nicholas Lardy, an expert on the Chinese economy at the Peterson International Institute for Economics. "But it looks like it's dwindling rapidly."