Trump, Self-Styled ‘Tariff Man,’ Issues China a Warning

Posted December 4, 2018 3:18 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump warned China on Tuesday that if President Xi Jinping failed to make good on the trade promises reached during their weekend meeting, the United States would impose additional tariffs on Chinese imports.

Referring to himself as a “Tariff Man,” Trump issued a series of tweets that only further deepened the murkiness surrounding the trade truce that the two leaders said they had reached Saturday evening on the sidelines of the Group of 20 meeting. Stocks, which rallied Monday on the potential for a pact, fell Tuesday as confusion set in about whether an agreement had truly been reached.

The United States and China have announced only vague commitments and started a 90-day clock to try to reach a trade deal, but Trump has repeatedly cited specific agreements from China that Beijing has yet to confirm.

That includes more purchases of U.S. farm products, which Trump — seemingly trying to remind Xi — has said will begin “immediately.”

“President Xi and I want this deal to happen, and it probably will,” Trump said in a post on Twitter. “But if not remember, I am a Tariff Man.”

The Trump administration has already faced criticism this week for a lack of detail and mixed messages about what the leaders agreed to at their dinner. The White House and Beijing have essentially reached an agreement to pause the trade war for 90 days while the two sides try to reach a formal trade deal. But any such pact is not a guarantee, given deep divisions that remain between the countries and the administration’s insistence that China end its practice of pressuring U.S. companies to hand over valuable technology and trade secrets.

Stocks fell, including those in the industrial sector — which is widely exposed to risks related to the trade fight between Washington and Beijing. Shares in Boeing and Caterpillar, companies with significant sales in China, tumbled.

Members of Trump’s economic team continued to temper optimism about a deal Tuesday.

Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said that China had agreed to buy $1.2 trillion of American products, but he could not offer specifics on what would be bought and when.

“They have said that these are targets and that that is their expectation,” Mnuchin told the Fox Business Network. “And that in the short term there would be some very specific commitments.”

Larry Kudlow, the director of the White House’s National Economic Council, was careful to downplay suggestions that the Trump administration was really seeking a full overhaul of America’s trade relationship with China through the talks.

“I don’t think these trade talks are designed to completely change the system,” Kudlow said at a WSJ CEO Council event. “These talks are centered on a variety of specific issues.”

That includes China’s requirement that American companies hand over valuable technology as a condition of doing business there.

“China needs to change their joint venture system. That’s nearly the root of all evil,” he said.

China has a reputation for making big promises on trade and not fulfilling them. Some trade experts have suggested that China could be using the new 90-day window to stall additional tariffs as officials work to stimulate their slowing economy.

Wilbur Ross, the Commerce secretary, said on CNBC that it was too soon to say that a deal was done.

“We shall see how serious the Chinese actually are,” he said. “It’s too early to tell how serious they are.”