May 21, 2018, 7:44 PM ET

Lawmakers urge Trump administration to clarify strategy on China after trade war pause

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With Trump administration members sending mixed messages on the status of trade negotiations with China, lawmakers are urging the White House to clarify its position and to keep the pressure on the Chinese to stop them from stealing intellectual property.

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Early Monday the president tweeted that, in order to wind down an escalating trade feud between the two countries, China would buy more American products in order to reduce the trade deficit between the two nations.

That followed Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s declaration over the weekend that the administration was “putting the trade war on hold,” including lifting tariffs that the United States had threatened on China in retaliation for its theft of U.S. intellectual property.

Lawmakers including Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer warned that it wasn’t worth it for the U.S. to remove the threat of tariffs on China simply for a one-time promise of an unspecified amount of import purchases.

“If nothing else changes, this deal is a win-win for China,” Schumer said Monday.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump and Chinas President Xi Jinping meet business leaders at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Nov. 9, 2017.Jonathan Ernst/Reuters, FILE
President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping meet business leaders at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Nov. 9, 2017.

And in a statement that clashed with Trump’s sanguine tweet, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer seemed to warn over the weekend that attaining an unspecified agreement on agricultural products would not achieve more critical long-term goals on intellectual property. He said the U.S. must focus on getting China to agree to reforms such as scrapping requirements that U.S. companies share technology with their Chinese counterparts in order to take part in joint ventures there.

"Getting China to open its market to more U.S. exports is significant, but the far more important issues revolve around forced technology transfers, cyber theft and the protection of our innovation," Lighthizer’s statement read.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., one of the Senate’s most vocal China skeptics, echoed Lighthizer’s exhortation in a tweet Monday, shortly after the president’s uppercase and exclamation-laden announcement.

Asked about the administration’s evolving China trade strategy, several Republicans said the White House needed to fill them in on what was happening, as most of them had only heard and read media reports about the developing talks over the weekend.

“I encourage [the administration] to brief the Hill and let us know where it is because obviously, we’ve been very engaged in concerns about trade issues,” Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., the chairman of a key Asia subcommittee, told ABC.

“I heard Secretary Mnuchin’s comments,” on the trade détente, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, told ABC as he walked into a meeting with Senate leadership. “I think there was a little difference between [Lighthizer] and himself. I just don’t know the inside.”

As the administration continues its discussions with China, Congress is taking some initial steps to curtail the president from giving too much relief to one particular company that is representative of some of China’s trade violations: ZTE, a telecom sanctioned in April over concerns that the Chinese government was using ZTE technology to spy on Americans.

Last week a House Appropriations subcommittee approved a measure that would block the Commerce Department from lifting a seven-year ban on ZTE’s ability to purchase U.S. supplies. In a series of tweets last week Trump suggested he was open to easing up on ZTE.

Schumer said the Senate will consider additional measures to keep the pressure on that company if necessary and that Democrats will seek support from across the aisle.

“I say to President Trump, who knows I genuinely want him to succeed with China: Stay strong. Don't back off sanctions with ZTE. You have to pursue the course or China will continue to enjoy the upper hand,” he said on the Senate floor Monday.

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  • MauiOhana808

    Make America Happy Again!!!
    Thank you Special Prosecutor Mueller, the Grand Jury and the FBI !!!!
    Aloha :^D

  • j penske

    "With Trump administration members sending mixed messages"... They're just doing what Trump does all the time, and he's proud.

  • Tralfaz Gottrockets

    We lost the ill-advised trade war. Have fun spinning it.

  • tj

    As clarification: the controlling party for the current Congress are more akin to law breakers than law makers. That said, what darned good would it do if the orange fuhrer did inform Congress, especially the GOP, of the details; it's not like they'd do anything about it anyway. The only GOP with a spine against anything this administration does is either gone or leaving; the rest are either beholden or complicit.

  • Blue Wave

    Strategy? From Trump? Why do you think he's "paused" things? It's because he never had a plan or strategy in the first place except to say this is a fulfilled campaign promise.

  • David

    Whatever happened to that pesky piece of paper called the Constitution, you know, the one that says Congress shall regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states and with Indian Tribes? When did Mnuchin and Trump unilaterally get to negotiate trade deals?

  • Erwin Schrodinger

    I think China explained to Trump that all those copyrights and trademarks they awarded him after his election could easily be taken away. Suddenly, he is a champion for China.

  • stamped human bacon

    I suppose when your head is in the sand, it could be interpreted as being "in the dark".

  • jon rhodes

    It should not be a surprise that our lawmakers are in the dark regarding our trade relations with China. Our president is in the dark about virtually anything regarding global issues. Anyone who foolishly voted for this ignorant, incompetent, immoral fraud should go to their computer room and not come out until this president is sent packing.

  • mikevietvet68/69

    seems to be the trend that all of a sudden people have stopped commenting about the gangster in charge and his thugs.whether or not you like bill mahr he put this whole gang in perspective on his friday nite show.i especially like who he made fredo.the comments are made along the lines of the godfather story...very amusing....

  • FfloydZzepp

    You can be assured the US was sold down the river by Trump.

  • Plodding Godzilla

    Mid-terms are coming fast. Trump needs a victory, somewhere, anywhere. Xi Jin Ping and Kim Jong Un are well aware of this and hold all the cards at the negotiating table. Trump with his self-proclaimed art of deal making, has put himself in the worst possible position by letting Xi and Kim significantly control his destiny in the coming mid-terms. In addition, Trump has unilaterally violated our treaty with Iran and alienated out traditional allies who now turn away in disgust at the man. I'd like to think Xi and Kim will hang Trump out to blow in the wind but upon reflecting on the damage Trump has done to American prestige in one short year, they may well string him along for awhile to enjoy his further destruction of our hegemony which was built slowly over decades by real statesmen and diplomats.

  • Nearl45 61

    China has agreed to buy massive amounts os Ag products from the US...

    ... that we cannot supply to them without a shortage for us because US immigration policy is leading to crops rotting in the fields!!

    Crabs not being cleaned and packed!!

    Meatpacking plant shortages.

  • mollydtt

    That $500,000,000 loan that China gave Trump is conveniently timely.

  • ogrot

    The problem with Trumponomics is this, the aggressive swindling can yield short term gains, at the expense of long term relationships.

    Think of it this way. You walk into a store where the salesmen aggressively pushes you into a purchase of something you don't really want, even bait's and switches on you, and lies. He got your dollar that day. Took you for a ride even. But will you ever come back? No. Will you tell everyone how terrible that store is? Yes. In fact you will probably emphatically do so. They might have gotten a hundred dollars out of you in one day, but that is all they will ever get. Had they treated you well you may have returned again and again and spent over a thousand dollars there over the course of a year. Short term vs. Long term. Business is not just I win you lose. That model is a con job and survives as long as there are people out there that don't know what the con is. Real businesses create lasting relationships with their customers. They consider tomorrow, and how to craft a relationship where you come back to spend your money again, because you trust the product, like the service, or simply value the personal relationship.

  • ogrot

    Translation: Just what the heck did all of this get us, because right now it looks like you traded a bailout for ZTE for nothing.

  • Pad

    trump continues to con his followers -- he pronounces these tough deals with China, North Korea, whoever. Then he quietly ignores the old rules and his tough rules and cowtows to them to get a short term gain. And, his followers buy it every time. I would be embarrassed to still be a trump supporter bc it suggests an inability to understand basic business and politics.

  • Colinalcarz

    By now most of my farmer friends here in Iowa have decided not to wait to see what happens to the commodity prices resulting from the threatened retaliatory tariffs from China, they needed to get a crop in. Many in the north have to wait for their fields to dry out but they won’t be waiting much longer. People have to live their lives but things are much more unpredictable than usual and it’s worrisome.

  • Krimson

    Trump will let China run all over us as long as he makes out in the end. He will sell us all out. Just watch...