U.S. and Chinese trade negotiators are meeting in Beijing this week to begin high-stake talks to avert a bigger trade war before a March 2 deadline announced by President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping after a recent meeting in Argentina. The task of redefining the U.S.-China trade relationship in a way that benefits the U.S. rests largely with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, a longtime China hawk and Trump's chief U.S. trade negotiator.
Before he does that, "Lighthizer will need to keep a mercurial president from wavering in the face of queasy financial markets, which have suffered their steepest annual decline since 2008," The New York Times reports. "Trump is increasingly eager to reach a deal that will help calm the markets, which he views as a political electrocardiogram of his presidency." On Saturday, after speaking to Xi on the phone, Trump cheered investors by tweeting that the "deal is moving along very well."
Specifically, Lighthizer views his role as "preventing the president from being talked into accepting 'empty promises' like temporary increases in soybean or beef purchases," and he has a tool at his disposal, the Times reports:
When Mr. Lighthizer senses that anyone — even Mr. Trump — might be going a little soft on China, he opens a paper-clipped manila folder he totes around and brandishes a single-page, easy-reading chart that lists decades of failed trade negotiations with Beijing, according to administration officials. [The New York Times]
Lighthizer also has Florida real estate on his side, the Times reports: "He has joked to colleagues that he has more influence with Mr. Trump during winter months because he is able to hitch a ride on Air Force One during the president's flights down to Mar-a-Lago, which is several miles from Mr. Lighthizer's own $2.3 million waterfront condo in Palm Beach." You can read more at The New York Times.