During a long and rambling call-in to the indulgent hosts of "Fox & Friends" on Friday, President Donald Trump called a long-discussed trade deal with China “potentially very close."
“The bottom line is, we have a very good chance to make a deal,” Trump said nebulously. Upbeat words are a frequent go-to for goosing stock markets, but these sound particularly flimsy.
Earlier in the day, Chinese President Xi Jinping said he is seeking a phase-one trade agreement that’s based in part on “equality" with the U.S.
But Trump told his Fox friends: “I didn’t like his word ‘equality’ because we started off so low. This can’t be like an even deal, because we’re starting off on the floor and you’re already at the ceiling. So we have to have a much better deal.”
There's little reason to believe this position means much given the president's other comments about China, specifically the street rebellions in Hong Kong.
“If it weren't for me, Hong Kong would have been obliterated in 14 minutes,” he claimed chimerically.
He said Xi "has got a million soldiers standing outside of Hong Kong that aren’t going in only because I asked him.
“ ‘Please don’t do that. You will be making a big mistake.’ It’s going to have a tremendous negative impact on the trade deal, and he wants to make a trade deal.”
Here's one possible translation of this word salad: Trump may not sign legislation designed to support pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong despite near-unanimous support in the House and Senate.
Saying, based on nothing, that he's already saved the lives of so many could justify ceding the matter to Xi. Here's the rest of it:
"We have to stand with Hong Kong, but I’m also standing with President Xi. He’s a friend of mine. He’s an incredible guy … But I’d like to see them work it out. OK. We have to see and work it out.
"But I stand with Hong Kong. I stand with freedom. I stand with all of the things that we want to do, but we also are in the process of making the largest trade deal in history. And if we could do that, that would be great."
Whatever that may mean, the majorities for the bill in Congress make it veto-proof, so it's likely to take effect regardless of his position.
But Trump's response left the door open for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to deliver some resonant criticism.
“For a guy who promised to be tough on China, President Trump’s reliable deference to President Xi is all the more bewildering,” Schumer said. "Being tough on China when it comes to human rights will also help us win the battle on trade.”
Only a month ago, however, CNBC reported that U.S. trade negotiator Peter Navarro has been fighting the "Phase One" behind the scenes, taking issue with the shelving of certain protections for intellectual property and technology that appeared in earlier drafts.
The status quo on tariffs is likely to continue into next year.