OSAKA, Japan — President Trump has brought his top China critic, senior adviser Peter Navarro, to Japan for a gathering of world leaders, raising the possibility that the White House doesn’t plan to cut a quick deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a meeting on Saturday.
Navarro was a last-minute addition to the White House’s travel team, which included U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Chinese officials are wary of Navarro because of his long-standing criticism of their country and their government. He co-authored the 2011 book “Death by China: Confronting the Dragon — A Global Call to Action.”
Last year at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina, Trump also brought Navarro at the last minute to attend a high-stakes meeting with Xi and other top Chinese officials. Xi and the president agreed to negotiate a trade deal, but those talks fell apart after several months, leading to an escalating trade war between two of the world’s biggest economies.
Trump has imposed 25 percent tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods. Navarro has been one of the biggest supporters of Trump’s adversarial approach to using tariffs.
Some White House officials believed Navarro was not brought to the 2018 G-20 summit in hopes that Chinese officials would be more likely to cut a deal if they didn’t have to worry about one of their top critics dissuading Trump.
A number of top White House officials, including Mnuchin, have been critical of Navarro’s strident criticism of China, suggesting it could hurt the U.S. economy because it makes it harder for both sides to reach a compromise. Trump is a big supporter of Navarro’s hard-line approach, and this affinity has made Navarro invaluable for the president.
Trump said Wednesday that if the meeting between him and Xi didn’t go well at this year’s G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, he could follow through with 10 percent tariffs on the remaining $300 billion in Chinese imports. This would affect a number of consumer goods and could drive up costs, but Trump has said the tariffs are necessary to protect U.S. businesses and help balance competition.
Before leaving for Osaka, Trump signaled that he planned to continue his adversarial trade agenda during the G-20 summit. In addition to China, he has threatened to impose steep tariffs on the European Union, Japan and Mexico. In a Twitter post from Air Force One, Trump wrote that he was “off to save the Free World!”
Navarro has argued for years that China steals U.S. intellectual property, unfairly subsidizes its businesses, manipulates its currency and takes steps that give it an unfair advantage over U.S. companies. These actions, he has said, have had a devastating impact on U.S. communities, particularly in the South and Midwest, where many manufacturing jobs have dried up.
Chinese officials have tried to manage expectations ahead of the G-20 meeting between Trump and Xi. They were initially reluctant to confirm that a meeting was scheduled but did so after Trump threatened to impose tariffs if a gathering did not happen. They have said they will restart trade talks if there is a sense of equality between the two sides, suggesting they believe the United States is trying to force Chinese officials to make concessions without receiving anything in return.
It was not immediately clear whether Navarro would sit in during Trump’s meeting with Xi on Saturday or serve as a sideline adviser in preparation for the discussion.
Even though many business leaders have complained about Trump’s ongoing fight with Chinese officials, Trump says he believes it goes over well with his base.