Trump Sees a China Trade Deal Through a New Prism: The 2020 Election

In recent weeks, however, Mr. Trump’s campaign advisers have also started to echo the no-compromise approach, according to a former official. That, combined with Mr. Biden’s potential political weakness on China, has shifted Mr. Trump’s thinking away from those who urged a deal.

At his rally this week in Panama City Beach, Fla., Mr. Trump claimed that Mr. Biden was telling supporters that foreign leaders told him they hoped he would defeat Mr. Trump in 2020. “Of course they do,” the president told his crowd, “so they can continue to rip off the United States.”

For Mr. Trump, the decision on whether to abandon trade talks with China will hinge on more than politics. Trade is one of the few issues where he has deeply rooted ideological convictions, dating back to the 1980s. Mr. Trump views his aggressive tactics with Beijing as a way to break a pattern of Chinese dissembling that he contends has characterized China’s negotiations with the last three American presidents.

From the earliest days of Mr. Trump’s presidency, he has viewed a deal as a major political victory and made it one of his top priorities.

By the beginning of this year, he had grown impatient with the pace of negotiations and began pressing his advisers for a deal. In February, as negotiators were still early in the process of drawing up a text, he broached the idea of a “signing summit” with President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago, his club in Palm Beach, Fla.

Mr. Trump’s eagerness for a deal encouraged Mr. Mnuchin and Robert Lighthizer, the United States trade representative, to give him overly optimistic reports about their progress, according to a person familiar with the talks, to avoid both his anger and an impulsive tweet or statement that might complicate the talks.

Last Friday evening, after yet another visit by Mr. Mnuchin and Mr. Lighthizer to Beijing, the Chinese sent the Americans a diplomatic cable containing a heavily redacted version of the text that the two sides had been working on, with modifications to all seven chapters of the 150-page document. Among other things, the changes walked back commitments to codify some parts of the agreement in Chinese law.


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