Nobody in Trumpland Knows What’s Going On With China

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President Trump had dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday. On Sunday he tweeted this:

Oddly, the Chinese didn’t confirm this. Instead we got headlines like this one from the New York Times:

Hmmm. This is kind of odd, since Trump doesn’t really have much to gain from misrepresenting his agreeement with Xi. But then it got worse as the headlines morphed into weirder ones, like this one from the Los Angeles Times:

One of the things that makes this whole affair peculiar is that auto tariffs hardly matter. Most cars for the Chinese market are made in China. They aren’t made in America and then shipped over. Still, even if the whole thing is a nothingburger, you’d expect Trump and his gang to at least know what they agreed to. But no:

On Sunday night, after returning to the White House from the Group of 20 economic summit in Argentina, Trump declared on Twitter that China “has agreed to reduce and remove tariffs on cars coming into China from the U.S.”….But Trump’s top economic advisors made clear Monday that no agreement to reduce and remove the tariffs yet existed, despite Trump’s boast.

“We don’t yet have a specific agreement on that, but I will just tell you … we expect those tariffs to go to zero,” Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic advisor, told reporters in a conference call from the White House….Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin gave mixed messages, appearing to confirm the auto tariff cut but then backing off….White House trade advisor Peter Navarro also wouldn’t confirm China was lifting auto tariffs.

Beyond this, it turns out that the White House didn’t even have any idea what level the Chinese might reduce their tariffs to. Auto tariffs used to be 25 percent, but earlier this year China reduced them to 15 percent—except for us. After Trump announced his tariffs this summer, the Chinese raised tariffs on American cars to 40 percent, while leaving everyone else at 15 percent. Assuming that there’s any deal in place at all, this probably means that China has only promised to reduce auto tariffs on American cars to 15 percent, which it was planning to do all along until Trump started his trade war.

And what about soybeans? Apparently China agreed to buy a “substantial” amount of American food and energy products. But once again, this is something China had already agreed to do before Trump announced his tariffs.

So is China giving us anything in return for the 90-day tariff truce that both countries agreed to? Hard to say. I guess they’re getting a 90-day tariff truce—although there was even some confusion about when the truce started. Beyond that, who knows?

HERE ARE THE FACTS:

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ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

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