Donald Trump and Xi Jinping on Saturday agreed to another ceasefire in the trade war between the world’s two largest economies.
The initial news came just after midnight, New York time. It was followed by a smattering of headlines from Xinhua and, eventually, a more detailed account. Further tariffs are postponed and talks will resume, in line with the base case of many analysts and market pundits.
In remarks to reporters after the Xi bilateral, Trump called his meeting with the Chinese strongman “excellent”. “We discussed a lot of things and we’re right back on track”, Trump said.
Later, Trump delivered a G20 post-game press conference and here is what he had to say about the new trade truce:
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Trump, in his signature five-year-old cadence, explained that “we agreed I would not be putting tariffs on the $325 billion that I would have the ability to put on if I wanted”.
It appears there is no short-term resolution to the Huawei situation – Trump was noncommittal. The issue will “have to be saved to the very end”, he said. The president suggested that US companies can, in fact, send product to Huawei. The following is very difficult to parse:
One of the things I will allow, however, and a lot of people are surprised, we sell and we send to Huawei a tremendous amount of product that goes into the various things that they make. And I said that that’s ok. That we will keep selling that product. These are American companies, John, that make product. And that’s very complex by the way. Highly scientific.
Yes, it’s all “highly scientific”. Reporters just wouldn’t understand.
Trump went on to say he’s “agreed” to allow American tech companies to continue selling to Huawei and it wasn’t immediately clear whether that marked a new chapter in this soap opera or whether the White House is now just trying to pretend as though companies like Micron, who have figured out a way around the Huawei ban, are only doing so at the pleasure of Trump.
Read more: How Micron Beat Trump’s Huawei Ban
Amusingly, the president tried to suggest that it was news to him that Chinese students and researchers are having a hard time in the US lately – as though he was somehow unaware of the Li Xiaojiang episode and/or of the fact that the National Institutes of Health earlier this year notified Congress of nearly 200 NIH grantees with foreign ties that should be scrutinized. As of last month, more than four-dozen institutions were conducting investigations tied to those inquiries.
“That will be like any other nation”, Trump said, referring to prospective Chinese students entering US universities. It wasn’t clear whether “just like any other nation” meant Trump was inclined to treat Chinese students more like people from Norway (Trump famously loves Norwegians) or more like people from “sh*tholes“.
The president’s unmatched ability to cram an improbable number of untruths into a relatively short soundbite was on full display. The following clip features Trump asserting, among other things, that the stock market “went crazy” from the day he was elected “until essentially now”.
While it’s true that US equities have touched record highs multiple times during Trump’s presidency, he fails to mention that the S&P fell 19.8% from its September high to its December nadir, barely skirting a bear market. The benchmark is up around 38% from the day Trump was elected. From Obama’s inauguration through the 2016 election, US stocks rose some 165%.
Trump hilariously described the US as “the hot show, the hottest show in town”. He’s right about that, only not in the way he intends it.
His assertion that the US economy is having a run unparalleled in the history of nations is patently false. The GDP numbers Trump has put up aren’t even anomalous in US history, let alone in the history of all nations. He didn’t mention the myriad data points in June which suggest the domestic economy is on the verge of rolling over. On average, the US economy created more jobs during the latter months of the Obama administration than under Trump, something everyone from Jeff Gundlach to David Rosenberg to Chuck Todd has pointed out.
Asked about his apparent failure to take seriously the fact that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the extrajudicial killing of noted dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump lied. “Nobody has pointed a finger directly at the future King of Saudi Arabia”, he said.
Only Trump is capable of that kind of blatant disregard for reality. Everybody, including the CIA, pointed the finger at Prince Mohammed. Just last week, a 101-page UN report recommended sanctions and a criminal investigation into the Crown Prince.
At breakfast with the Saudi delegation Saturday, Trump refused to answer shouted questions about Khashoggi’s death.
“[Saudi Arabia] is ordering equipment – not only military equipment – $400 billion worth”, Trump remarked at the press conference. “That being said, I’m extremely angry and unhappy about a thing like that taking place”.