In his May 14 op-ed, “Trump is clueless,” Eugene Robinson posited that the trade negotiations between the United States and China blew up because President Trump pulled a stunt he was known for in his New York real estate days. Specifically, Mr. Robinson said unnamed “veterans” of that milieu have informed him that Mr. Trump would typically “pitch some kind of fit” at the 11th hour to cow the opposing parties into new concessions.
Aside from this claim about “the president’s history,” Mr. Robinson offered no basis for inferring bad-faith negotiating on the part of the United States. However, Mr. Trump does not own a patent either on pivoting away late in a negotiation process or losing the nerve to strike a watershed deal — either of which may have occurred on the Chinese side. Indeed, the May 7 front-page article “U.S. says China reneged on trade commitments” asserted it was China that backed off: “Chinese demands to water down provisions in the deal were delivered to the administration late last week, infuriating the president.”
Blaming the United States for the breakdown in negotiations and threats of additional dueling tariffs, as Mr. Robinson did, hands the Chinese an unjustified propaganda tool in the public relations crossfire accompanying the trade war. There are ample reasons to question the Trump administration’s execution of its tariff strategy or communications (e.g., trade wars are “easy to win”) without going as far as Mr. Robinson did.
Kenneth Barry, Vienna