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Opinion
Michael Schuman

Trump Paints Xi Into a Corner

The U.S. approach to trade negotiation misunderstands modern China.

No deal.

No deal.

Photograph: Kyodo News/Getty

With the latest round of trade talks between the U.S. and China ending in a predictable stalemate, one thing has become clear: The Trump administration’s approach to these negotiations has made it all but impossible for Chinese President Xi Jinping to make a deal. Until that changes, there’s no end in sight for the tariff-for-tariff tussle between the two countries, and little chance of achieving Donald Trump’s stated goals.

The White House seems to misunderstand a crucial fact about modern China. As Xi has tightened his grip on power, China’s economic and diplomatic initiatives have become closely associated with him personally. In foreign policy, Xi has sold himself as the champion of China’s global interests and the man to stand up to the West and restore the country to its former glory. At home, Xi has promised the “Chinese Dream,” a prosperous future with boundless new opportunities.