Photo: AFP/Nicolas Asfouri
Photo: AFP/Nicolas Asfouri

Optimism for the Trump administration striking a trade deal with Beijing dimmed over the weekend, as US-China tensions were on full display at a multilateral summit in Singapore.

Top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow spoke on Tuesday about the implications of the showdown at the summit between Vice-President Mike Pence – who stood in for President Donald Trump on the trip – and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“I’m telling you now I thought the vice-president just stood up for America.… He has made this case before,” Kudlow told reporters outside the White House.

A speech given by Pence in early October articulated a hardline China policy, prompting criticism from Beijing that the Trump administration is driving the relationship toward a new cold war.

“It will come to a head at the G-20,” Kudlow said of the prospects for a productive meeting between Trump and Xi at the Group of Twenty summit in Buenos Aires later this month.

Earlier in the day, speaking on a televised interview with Fox Business channel, Kudlow warned that China would have to agree to significant policy changes to make a trade deal possible.

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“President Trump – I think – is trying to inject a note of optimism through all this,” he said.

But, he added: “any deal between the two countries has got to be in American interests.… It’s got to include IP theft. It’s got to include changes in ownership. It’s got to include the forced transfer of technology. It’s got to go to zero tariffs and zero non-tariff barriers. It’s got to have enforceability. It’s got to have strict timetables.”

The laundry list of asks includes many that Beijing has given no indication it is willing to consider.

The comments come along with an announcement that China’s chief US trade negotiator, Vice-Premier Liu He, will be making a trip to Germany before heading to the G-20. He had reportedly planned a trip to Washington ahead of the meeting, but that has apparently been canceled.

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