President Donald Trump and his government have gradually taken a harder line against China on trade issues, inching closer to matching Trump’s tough talk during the campaign. However, the pace has been all too slow to get a president intent on retaliating against alleged Chinese foreign trade abuses and rebalancing the US-China trading relationship.
Trump argued during the meeting that China was “laughing” at the United States and repeatedly made clear he wanted his aides to give him paths to impose tariffs on certain Chinese imports.
Axios was the first one to report details of this stressed Oval Office meeting.
Trump’s requirement that his advisers give him choices that would enable him to level tariffs against China came as his advisers presented him with a memorandum that would empower the US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to establish a broad investigation into Chinese commerce abuses concerning intellectual property rights. But the memorandum, which Trump later signed, did not go far enough to get a president determined to take aggressive action to face Chinese trade abuses and rebalance the US-China trading relationship, which was marked with a longstanding shortage from the US perspective. Trump unloaded on his aides from behind his desk in the Oval Office during a meeting which was attended
Trump unloaded on his aides from behind his desk in the Oval Office during a meeting which was attended by his new chief of staff, Lighthizer, his then-chief strategist Steve Bannon, National Trade Council manager Peter Navarro and National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, a source with direct knowledge of this meeting confirmed to CNN.
Trump argued during the meeting that China was “laughing” at the United States and repeatedly made clear he wanted his aides to give him paths to impose tariffs on certain Chinese imports. The memorandum was just the most recent sign of activity from the Trump administration aimed at countering Chinese trade practices.
The Trump administration has also launched investigations into imports of aluminum, steel and other goods China has been accused of dumping in the US. But the government’s actions on trade have also been analyzed by US diplomatic efforts to enlist China’s support in the face of increasingly belligerent North Korean threats. Trump also appeared to direct most of his frustration at Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive who has feuded with the Bannon wing of the White House over trade difficulties.
While Bannon and his allies — such as Navarro and sometimes Lighthizer — have pushed a tougher line on trade, Cohn has urged restraint, arguing instead that the US ought to be cautious not to unfurl the worldwide free trade order.
Bannon was pushed from the White House earlier this month, signaling that his influence on issues like transaction would wane. But Trump’s forceful calls for more aggressive trade actions make clear those views will persevere, even within a White House where Cohn and other proponents of free trade have gained sway in the wake of Bannon’s ouster.
The controversial Oval Office meeting also gave Kelly an early look at the divisions roiling the West Wing and he immediately dispatched the group of advisers from the Oval Office to solve their differences away from the President. Kelly’s directive that Trump’s senior-most aides hash out their differences away from the President was not the last time Kelly gave this direction as part of his attempts to instill a new sense of order among rival factions and finish the squabbles that so frequently happened before the President before Kelly assumed his new role.
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