President Donald Trump on Tuesday cautioned China not to delay finalizing a trade deal until after the 2020 presidential election, threatening there would be a much tougher offer on the table or no deal at all if he wins.
As American negotiators resumed talks in Shanghai, Trump admonished China for failing to keep up its promises to buy more US agricultural products and warned against a strategy of dragging out negotiations to end a trade impasse in the hopes that a Democrat – such as former Vice President Joe Biden – might win the White House.
“The problem with them waiting … is that if & when I win, the deal that they get will be much tougher than what we are negotiating now…or no deal at all,” Trump said in a series of tweets.
Speaking to reporters at the White House later on Tuesday, Trump again speculated Beijing would try and wait him out believing a potential Democratic successor would agree to better terms.
“I think the biggest problem to a trade deal is China would love to wait,” he said on the White House lawn. “They would just love if I got defeated.”
“China always makes a new deal at the end or seems to,” Trump said.
Still, he said talks were “moving very well,” even as he speculated a final agreement may still be years away.
“They’ll pray that Trump loses and they’ll make a deal with a stiff, somebody who doesn’t know what they’re doing” he said.
It was the first time the President directly addressed a narrowing window in which the world’s two largest economies could strike a deal or else leave him with a major unfilled campaign promise as he runs for a second term.
On the 2016 campaign trail, Trump pledged repeatedly to beat China – the so-called “enemy” that cost Americans jobs, spied on US businesses and stole US technology.
The President has already sought to put a positive spin if he fails to win a deal with China. At a rally kicking off his reelection campaign in Florida in June, he told a crowd of supporters: “We’ll see what happens, but we are going to have a good deal and a fair deal or we’re not going to have a deal at all and that’s OK too.”
This week’s face-to-face meeting comes weeks after Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed on the sidelines of the G20 leaders summit to a ceasefire after talks broke down in early May. At the time, the US claimed Beijing reneged on its prior commitments and threatened an additional round of tariffs on billions of Chinese goods.
The stalemate marked a sharp turn from the optimism the administration had conveyed over the course of the prior months as negotiating teams jetted between Beijing and Washington.
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are leading talks this week in the hopes of piecing together a trade agreement and are expected to meet with China’s top negotiator Vice Premier Liu He.
From the outset, the administration has already kept expectations low in terms of what is achievable this week with Trump already downplaying the possibility of a breakthrough.
“I don’t know if they’re going to make a deal,” he said on Friday. “Maybe they will, maybe they won’t.”
The deal has been a top priority for both Trump and Xi, who pledged during a December meeting in Buenos Aires to reach a comprehensive trade agreement that would end the escalating tit-for-tat trade war Trump started last year with his shock tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports.