The meeting, which took place between Presidents Trump and Xi during the G20 summit at the end of last month, was an attempt to resuscitate trade negotiations which derailed in May, leading to a mutual rise in tariffs. The June meeting produced an agreement from both sides to hold off on imposing new tariffs. As it stands, the US has placed tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods, with China returning tariffs on $110 billion in US goods. Trump also promised to ease-up on the supply ban on Huawei Technologies, a Chinese company whose ability to purchase US technology has been restricted due to cybersecurity concerns regarding the possibility that it may facilitate surveillance on the behalf of the Chinese government.
After the meeting, Trump announced that “We’re holding on tariffs, and they’re going to buy farm products,” but this seemed to be a misunderstanding of the agreement. A source briefed on the meeting told Hong Kong’s South China Post that Xi had made no such commitment. On Thursday, Trump took to Twitter to state that “China is letting us down in that they have not been buying the agricultural products from our great Farmers that they said they would.”
Just before the G20 Summit, Trump tweeted “After some very important meetings, including my meeting with President Xi of China, I will be leaving Japan for South Korea (with President Moon). While there, if Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!” Kim took Trump up on the informal invitation, and Trump ended up taking ten steps into North Korea, becoming the first US President to do so. Trump and Kim then spent an hour meeting privately in a South Korean building known as the Freedom House. This marked the third time the two had met and the first since talks had collapsed in Hanoi last February. Trump did not share any details of their meeting but did say that he would be willing to invite Kim to the White House.
The connecting issue preventing progress in America’s relationships with these two countries is Trump’s lack of commitment to a foreign policy t which accounts for the interests of the parties on the other side of the table. His foreign policy vacillates constantly, seemingly in response to whoever he has in his ear at the moment. Trump had previously insisted that North Korea completely denuclearize before expecting any sanction relief. Now, accompanied by anti-interventionist Fox News host Tucker Carlson while war hawk National Security Advisor John Bolton was sent to Mongolia, Trump conceded that “At some point during the negotiation, things can happen… So we’ll be talking about sanctions.” However, it remains to be seen whether Trump was able to use the closed meeting to move the two countries closer to peace, or whether the trip was nothing more but a photo op.
Trump’s inconsistent one-man diplomacy has also prolonged the trade war with China. China knows that the longer the negotiating process goes, the more desperate Trump gets to return results before the 2020 election. Trump also has avoided confronting China on humanitarian issues such as the uprising in Hong Kong. Trump’s support for the Hong Kong protests has been vague, telling reporters earlier this month that “they’re looking for democracy. And I think most people want democracy. Unfortunately, some governments don’t want democracy.” After the G20 meeting, the State Department intervened to change a speech that was to be made by Kurt Tong, the US consul general in Hong Kong, on July 2nd. Three days later, Tong stepped down from his post.
Trump needs to fully staff his State Department, and actually listen to them. With a team of informed people behind him, he would be able to move more consistently through negotiations, and avoid embarrassing public mistakes like misunderstanding what is in an agreement. Trump also needs to determine what the other side can reasonably concede, and commit to pursuing that result. By reverting to shows of blusterous outrage whenever negotiations don’t immediately go his way, he only encourages the other side to be skeptical of diplomatic solutions and hurts the interests of the US.
- Women Cross DMZ: Women Cross DMZ is a coalition of activists from around the world, including both North and South Korea, who are calling for a peaceful solution to the Korean conflict.
- United for Peace and Justice: The UFPJ is a network of hundreds of peace and justice organizations with the shared goal of promoting a culture of demilitarization and cooperation.
This Brief was submitted by USRESIST NEWS Foreign Policy Analyst Colin Shanley: Contact Colin@usresistnews.org