President Donald Trump recently expressed extreme displeasure with several members of his senior staff for failing to offer opportunities for tougher punitive actions against China, according to sources familiar with the conversation, reports Axios.
“China is laughing at us,” the president said in a meeting with Chief of Staff John Kelly, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, senior trade adviser Peter Navarro, economic adviser Gary Cohn, and Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon. Trump demanded tariffs, but settled for a memorandum launching an investigation into Chinese theft of American intellectual property.
“For the last six months, this same group of geniuses comes in here all the time and I tell them, ‘Tariffs. I want tariffs.’ And what do they do? They bring me IP. I can’t put a tariff on IP,” Trump reportedly explained to Kelly.
“Yes sir, I understand, you want tariffs,” Kelly responded.
“Sir, do you not want to sign this?” Staff Secretary Bob Porter, a mediator, asked, referring to the memorandum. “No, I’ll sign it, but it’s not what I’ve asked for the last six months,” Trump replied. “I want tariffs. And I want someone to bring me some tariffs.”
Trump instructed Kelly to root out the “globalists,” those opposed to tariffs and protectionist measures, and give him what he wants. “John, let me tell you why they didn’t bring me any tariffs,” he told Kelly. “I know there are some people in the room right now that are upset. I know there are some globalists in the room right now. And they don’t want them, John, they don’t want the tariffs. But, I’m telling you, I want tariffs.”
The White House reportedly has not disputed the account of the meeting.
As the friendship touted in the wake of the Mar-a-Lago meeting in April between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping has faded, due largely to the president’s frustration with China’s inaction with regard to North Korea, the Trump administration has been putting increased pressure on Beijing.
The memorandum was heralded as a necessary crackdown on Beijing by individuals like Lighthizer, who argued in an op-ed that “American genius” is “under serious attack” from countries like China which steal billions of dollars in intellectual property each year.
Some, apparently the president included, believe the U.S. should take a tougher stance against China. Before Bannon left the White House, he told The American Prospect that China is waging war against the U.S. in the economic sphere. “We’re at economic war with China,” Bannon warned. “One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path.”
“The economic war with China is everything,” he added, “We have to be maniacally focused on that.”
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