President Donald Trump acknowledged concerns in Beijing about the possibility of him walking away from a trade deal, offering to push back a summit with Chinese leader Xi Jinping until a final deal is reached.
“We could do it either way,” Trump told reporters Wednesday at the White House. “We can have the deal completed and come and sign or we can get the deal almost completed and negotiate some of the final points. I would prefer that. But it doesn’t matter that much.”
Trump’s comments represent a shift in tone from late last month, when he raised the prospect of a “signing summit” with Xi. Chinese officials have growing increasingly wary of putting Xi in a position where he might be embarrassed by an unpredictable Trump or forced into last-minute concessions.
While appearing to address Chinese concerns, Trump also warned on Wednesday that he’ll reject a deal he doesn’t like. “President Xi saw that I’m somebody that believes in walking when a deal is not done and, you know, there is always a chance that could happen,” said Trump, who left a summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un last month in Hanoi after the two countries couldn’t agree on the future of the North Korean nuclear-weapon program.
Trump and his aides have for weeks been pushing for Xi to agree to a meeting at Mar-a-Lago, the president’s resort in Florida, to finalize a deal as soon as this month to end a dispute that has cast a shadow over the global economy.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer this week in testimony before a Congressional committee said that ”major issues” are still unresolved in the negotiations, adding that he couldn’t yet predict the outcome of the talks that the administration hopes to finalize in the coming weeks.
Trump was scheduled to meet with Republican Senators over trade on Wednesday afternoon, as Democrats kept up pressure on the administration for a tough approach on China.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer repeated his call for Trump to only accept a deal that will address Beijing’s treatment of intellectual property and to resist the temptation for a quick “win.”
The U.S. and China have imposed tariffs on roughly $360 billion of each other’s imports since July.
“President Xi is not going to give him much, and the president should have the guts to walk away because China is in a much weaker position, in part because of the tariffs that the president correctly imposed on China,” Schumer said in remarks on the Senate floor on Wednesday. “Stay strong, don’t cave,” he added.