The bromance between Trump and Xi seems to be ending, with both signaling they see weakness rather than strength in the other’s domestic position. Trump seems convinced China’s economy is slowing more dramatically than it is and that it presents an existential threat to Xi even as he expresses frustration with Chinese policy makers’ willingness to pull levers to offset his attacks. Meanwhile, Xi is sending signals he is ready to wait until next year’s U.S. election and that he knows Trump’s political weaknesses. Ergo the move to cancel agricultural purchases Trump wants so dearly.
Talks are going nowhere. A dinner at the Shanghai Peace Hotel for negotiators from both sides last week appeared designed to send a message to the outside world that a truce struck at the G-20 in June could hold. But the lack of progress in the room the next day prompted Trump’s tariff threat. Meanwhile, there are worries in both Beijing and Washington that Trump is now more focused on a mini deal involving purchases of farm products than a bigger, more meaningful pact.