- - Thursday, August 15, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Trump assures Americans regularly that he has a “great relationship” with an array of world figures, among them Xi Jinping of China and Kim Jong-un of North Korea. It’s comforting to hear. It would be more gratifying, though, to see these relationships bear fruit. Try as he might, the president has been stymied in his efforts to seal crucial deals with his Asian counterparts. Americans may be subject to creeping doubts, but there is no substitute for persistence.

Mr. Trump’s rapport with the two Far East rainmakers has evidently ebbed from chummy to chilly. Whether the president’s double trouble is attributable to coincidence or coordination, it’s clear that even a policy juggler of his capacity only has two hands, something unlikely to escape the notice of cagey comrades looking for leverage.

Mr. Xi’s smiling visage has lost none of its warmth during a series of media appearances with an equally affable Mr. Trump over the past two-and-a-half years. The two men have parried over China’s campaign to use any means possible, including theft of intellectual property estimated to be worth between $225 billion and $600 billion annually, to surpass the U.S. as the world’s top economic power. Behind his kindly countenance, though, Mr. Xi has sharpened his own resolve to resist any U.S. definition of fair trade.

Accustomed to special treatment from Washington on issues of trade, Mr. Xi couldn’t have foreseen Mr. Trump’s dogged adherence to an “America first” economic policy. When the United States ended the status quo by announcing 25 percent tariffs on Chinese goods worth $50 billion in June 2018, China’s president naturally retaliated with a similar penalty on $34 billion worth of U.S. imports.

Continuing failure this year to reach accommodation has resulted in additional U.S. tariffs on new Chinese products worth $200 billion and Beijing has returned the disfavor with duties on another $60 billion worth of American exports. Then Mr. Trump announced that 10 percent tariffs on a remaining $300 billion worth of Chinese goods, which he had suspended during the G-20 meeting in June, would take effect on Sept. 1 unless a deal was reached. Surprisingly, the president this week put off the levies on about half of those goods until Dec. 15. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Xi has not reciprocated by honoring his pledge to purchase a “tremendous amount” of American farm products.



Global markets have shuddered under the impact of the world’s two largest economies facing off for the mother of all trade wars. Adding to international anxiety, Hong Kong is on tenterhooks as the Chinese military dragon is poised to thunder into the city to quell two months of anti-authoritarian protests. Furthermore, the U.S. intends to deploy intermediate-range missiles in the Asia-Pacific region on behalf of China’s nervous neighbors and in disregard of Beijing’s wishes.

Trouble begets trouble, it is said, and North Korea’s dictator has chosen just such a time to resume his nuclear missile program with a series of short-range flights. More than tests, Mr. Kim said the launches signified “an occasion to send an adequate warning to the joint military drill now underway by the U.S. and South Korean authorities,” according to North Korean state media.

It was hardly more than a month ago when Mr. Trump shared grins with his North Korean counterpart as the two met at the Korea Demilitarized Zone. The first sitting U.S. president to step foot across the border, he prevailed upon Mr. Kim to restart flagging negotiations over denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The stepped-up missile launches may not drive a stake through the heart of hope, but they necessarily temper expectations for success.

When China speaks, North Korea listens. After remaining cloistered within the confines of his “hermit kingdom” for the first seven years of his reign, Mr. Kim has traveled to China four times since 2018 for talks with Mr. Xi. As his presidency wears on and the 2020 presidential election drifts closer, it is undeniable that Mr. Trump is encountering stiffening headwinds blowing out of the Far East.

Should Americans be worried that the president might come up empty-handed in his dealings with the Asian axis? They should be more concerned that were he to lose the White House to a yet-to-be-determined Democratic challenger, his efforts to induce China to engage in honest trade would be wasted. Some dealing can be unappealing, but the president has no choice but to plow ahead. Neither do Americans looking for a fairer future.

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