Who remembers the June 2019 G-20 meeting?
At the time, tensions between the world’s two largest economies were running high. In May of last year, Donald Trump decided to break a trade truce struck with his Chinese counterpart the previous December in Buenos Aires. The Trump administration had also just moved to blacklist Huawei, China’s corporate crown jewel.
Equity markets recoiled at the escalating tiff, and Trump added insult to injury for investors when the White House threatened to impose across-the-board tariffs on Mexico. Soon after, the market began to aggressively price in Fed cuts, which, at the time, was a big deal. It’s incredible to think that it was just a year ago when the idea of Jerome Powell cutting rates still counted as a “U-turn”.
At the June G-20 in Osaka, Trump and Xi agreed to another ceasefire. The new detente proved fleeting, though. Trump broke the truce a little over a month later. In retaliation, China let the yuan depreciate through the psychologically important 7.00 level, setting the stage for a truly harrowing August across assets.
Well, according to a copy of John Bolton’s controversial new memoir (which the White House is desperate to keep off the shelves), Trump asked Xi in Osaka to help him win the 2020 election. Here is an excerpt from Bolton’s hotly-anticipated book:
[Trump] then, stunningly, turned the conversation to the coming US presidential election, alluding to China’s economic capability to affect the ongoing campaigns, pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win. He stressed the importance of farmers, and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome. I would print Trump’s exact words but the government’s prepublication review process has decided otherwise.
If that sounds quite a bit like Trump’s “perfect phone call” with Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky to you, you’re note alone.
“[It] bears striking similarities to the actions that resulted in Trump’s impeachment after he sought to pressure the Ukrainian president to help dig up dirt on Democratic rival Joe Biden in exchange for military assistance”, The Washington Post writes.
The Post, which obtained a copy of the memoir, calls the book “the most substantive, critical dissection of the president from an administration insider so far”.
In his 592-page account, Bolton calls Trump “erratic” and “stunningly uninformed”.
The Justice Department sued this week to stop the book’s publication.
“The request for electoral assistance from Xi is just one of many instances described by Bolton in which Trump seeks favors or approval from authoritarian leaders”, the Post goes on to say, adding that according to Bolton, “many of those same leaders were also happy to take advantage of the US president and attempt to manipulate him.. often through simplistic appeals to his various obsessions”.
Vladimir Putin, for instance, sought to shore up support for Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela by comparing Juan Guaidó to Hillary Clinton, Bolton claims. Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Bolton asserts, variously attempted to persuade Trump to intervene in the Halkbank case (more here).
The allegation that Trump directly linked China’s purchases of US farm goods to the 2020 election echoes reports from last autumn which indicated Trump promised Xi he would remain silent on the Hong Kong protests as long as trade talks proceeded apace.
Trump has variously accused China of attempting to undermine his chances of reelection by “unfairly” targeting US farmers in the trade war. The pandemic threw the trade deal into doubt, and analysts generally do not believe it’s possible for China to live up to its commitments in 2020. Some experts have suggested that neither side believed the targets were realistic in the first place.
“I expect the administration will come out first with a lot of tough talk and financial sanctions and visa restrictions on Chinese officials who probably weren’t dumb enough to keep funds in the US”, David Loevinger, a former China specialist at Treasury, told Bloomberg last month, as the White House and lawmakers floated a variety of ideas for punishing China over the pandemic and other grievances.
Asked about the trade deal, Loevinger was unequivocal. “The trade deal is toast”, he said. “China’s import commitments weren’t realistic even when its economy was firing on all cylinders… there’s no way they’ll meet their commitments now”.
In October, during remarks to reporters, Trump openly implored Xi to investigate Joe Biden, a brazen move that arguably accelerated the impeachment proceedings.
One imagines the revelations from Bolton’s book will only serve to galvanize opinions amongst an already polarized electorate.
Still, the fact that the White House is keen to block the memoir’s release suggests Bolton’s account is anything but flattering.