US-China relations are at an all time low, but Trump still seems unsure how to handle Beijing

US-China relations are at an all time low, but Trump still seems unsure how to handle Beijing

  • Throughout his time in office, US President Donald Trump has blown hot and cold on China.

Early in his tenure, he visited Beijing, where he schmoozed with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in the Forbidden City, and praised the “very good chemistry” the two men shared. The following year, however, Trump launched a trade war against China, while simultaneously holding out for an historic deal between the two countries.That deal is still outstanding, and seems unlikely to be achieved before the end of Trump’s term, especially as relations between Washington and Beijing have plummeted over issues such as the coronavirus, Hong Kong, and Xinjiang. Trump’s cabinet is packed with China hawks, and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has become a figure of loathing in the Chinese media.

And yet parsing a coherent strategy on China from the White House can be tough. Even as he signed into law a bill stripping Hong Kong of its special trading status this week, Trump reportedly shied away from imposing sanctions against officials responsible for cracking down on the territory, according to Bloomberg, and he has not exercised his full powers under the act.

This appears to be a pattern for Trump. According to his former national security adviser, John Bolton, at the same time as Washington was ramping up criticism of Beijing’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang, the President was telling Xi that he agreed with his policies in the region. Sources previously told CNN that last year Trump promised Xi silence on pro-democracy protests Hong Kong during trade talk negotiations, for fear that criticizing China’s stance would scupper any potential deal.