President Donald Trump arrives here for a G20 summit Thursday with Chinese President Xi Jinping — and their eye-for-an-eye trade dispute — at the top of his dance card, a scheduled talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin below it and a possible encounter with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman not yet penciled in.
It is Trump’s working dinner with Xi on Saturday night that holds the most obvious potential peril — and promise — for the United States.
The two leaders are set to break bread as the U.S. is poised to increase levies on a range of Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent on Jan. 1, with Trump threatening to tax China across the board and Beijing positioned to retaliate.
Trump told The Washington Post this week that he wants to force China to make concessions to the U.S., but is perfectly happy to walk away from the table.
You cannot conclude a trade agreement between China and the United States after dinner in Buenos Aires on a Saturday night,” said Hamilton Place Strategies founder Tony Fratto, who worked on G20 summits as a spokesman in the George W. Bush administration.
While Trump says China is desperate to make a deal, there are reasons for Beijing to hold off, according to Aaron Friedberg, a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton who advised former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Trump’s meeting with Xi also comes at a time when his brand of nationalism — and that of some other prominent world leaders — has put the G20’s mission of fostering international financial stability through multilateral cooperation to the test.
David Mortlock, chair of Willkie, Farr & Gallagher’s Global Trade and Investment Group, said that it’s possible Trump could win some small concessions from China or herald a “deal in name only” at the end of the summit.
“Under either scenario, while Trump may achieve some progress on short-term bilateral trade issues, his focus on tariffs and reluctance to use multilateral and other diplomatic tools to shape China’s behavior is likely to give China wide latitude to shape its own rules of the international economy in the long-term,” he said.
Despite the CIA’s “high confidence” analysis that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman ordered the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump has said the report was inconclusive, and has declined to sanction the crown prince.
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