Photo: AFP/Saul Loeb
Photo: AFP/Saul Loeb

US President Donald Trump is leaving the door open to a trade deal with China, Vice-President Mike Pence reportedly said this week, but only if Beijing capitulates to a laundry list of demands, and the door won’t be open long.

Those demands aren’t limited to trade, according to an account of Pence’s comments from The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin on Tuesday.

A deal is possible “only if Beijing is willing to make massive changes that the United States is demanding in its economic, military and political activities,” Rogin paraphrased Pence as saying. The vice-president referenced China’s activity in the South China Sea as well as “Chinese Communist Party interference in the politics of Western countries.”

Pence “said this is China’s best (if not last) chance to avoid a cold-war scenario with the United States.… If Beijing doesn’t come up with significant and concrete concessions, the United States is prepared to escalate economic, diplomatic and political pressure on China,” Rogin wrote.

“He believes the US economy is strong enough to weather such an escalation while the Chinese economy is less durable.”

The comments described are in essence a restating of a speech Pence gave at a think-tank last month, during which he articulated a new, tougher China policy that seeks to confront Beijing on all fronts.

Trump is set to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Group of Twenty meeting at the end of this month and has made various comments suggesting that a deal is in the works. News reports this week have suggested that Vice-Premier Liu He, who has led trade negotiations on the Chinese side, may be traveling to Washington before then.

Given that Liu canceled a trip in September when it looked like the US was not ready to negotiate, a visit from the top economic adviser to Xi would be a clear sign there is confidence that Trump is ready to consider some form of agreement.

In the context of movement toward a deal, Pence’s comments might be seen as a classic Trump negotiating tactic to pressure Beijing to offer more when he sits down with Xi at the G-20. If that is not the case, there is little likelihood of any deal coming out of the meeting.

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