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White House Admits China Has Yet to Budge on ‘Unfair Trade’

Trump gives himself an ‘A-plus,’ but leaves Beijing’s trade tactics off achievement list

China and U.S. flags were displayed in front of the portrait of China's late Communist leader Mao Zedong during President Trump's 2017 visit there. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images file photo)
China and U.S. flags were displayed in front of the portrait of China's late Communist leader Mao Zedong during President Trump's 2017 visit there. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images file photo)

The White House has tried threats and bluster, then imposed controversial tariffs. Congress even did something rare, passing a bipartisan bill. But despite President Donald Trump’s and lawmakers’ efforts, China has yet to so much as blink on what Republicans and Democrats agree are its unjust trade practices, administration officials said Thursday.

The two U.S. political parties and Trump rarely find themselves in near-unanimous agreement. But when it comes to what they all see as China’s habit of stealing American technology and intellectual properties, playing games with its market and currency, and otherwise tipping the global trade scene to benefit its companies and economy, Washington is mostly unified.

The two parties and the president agree that legislation is needed to update the country’s immigration laws, but they have been unable to agree on the specifics of an overhaul bill. The same is true of other issues, with agreement that changes are needed but wide chasms on the specific remedies.

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Yet, amid America’s era of tribal politics both the House and Senate passed bills — then overwhelmingly approved a compromise plan — largely aimed at further cracking down on China’s trade practices. Lawmakers recently sent a bill to Trump’s desk that includes language to strengthen the process by which the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, evaluates the influence of companies operating here but are based oversea. Trump soon signed it into law.

Given China’s heavy footprint in the U.S., the panel frequently assesses Chinese firms.

“We can no longer allow dual-use military technology to be vacuumed up by countries like China,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said last week. Democratic Rep. Denny Heck of Washington warned earlier this year that foreign governments, through their companies, could set up operations on U.S. soil to collect intelligence because, before the legislation, “CFIUS can’t stop them.”

The White House scheduled a call Thursday morning to talk up the legislation, stressing its involvement in helping lawmakers reach a consensus deal and calling it a major legislative victory for Trump and his administration. The president is slated to participate in a closed-door roundtable on the administration’s efforts to implement the new law later Thursday.

Administration officials were eager to praise Trump for his “leadership” on pressing Beijing to alter its trade practices. Nineteen months into his presidency, Trump has tweeted about China 93 times. Some have featured praise for its president, Xi Jinping, with whom he claims to have a strong relationship.

But many of the social media posts have criticized Xi’s government for, as Trump wrote in one April tweet, “unfair trade.” The president also often criticizes Beijing over trade matters during media interviews and his free-wheeling political rallies — also slipping in digs during official events with trade or economic themes. On April 6, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders described some of China’s tactics as “unfair” and “illegal.”

Confronting China was a major campaign promise made daily by candidate Trump, and President Trump has made it a top priority.

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In an interview with Fox News that aired Thursday morning, the president was asked to grade his performance since taking office.

“I give myself an A-plus. I don’t think any president has ever done what I’ve done in this short [time],” he said. “Biggest tax cuts in history. Soon to be two Supreme Court justices. … You look at all the things we’ve done with regulations. The economy is the best it’s ever been in history.”

Not on that list: Coaxing China to follow the rules when it comes to trade.

That’s because, despite all the Trump bluster and bipartisan agreement, Xi simply isn’t budging. An administration official acknowledged on the call that Trump and his team have repeatedly laid out for Chinese officials the changes in behavior they would like to see.

“But so far,” the official said, “we have yet to see those.”

Watch: Rubio Leads Chorus of Lawmakers Critical of Trump’s Trade Talks With China

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