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Posturing Governs U.S.-Chinese Trade War


We're going to start the program today talking about those very consequential, apparently very contentious trade talks with China. President Trump has ordered his staff to impose yet another round of tariffs on Chinese imports. The tariffs would cover another $300 billion in products from China. And this comes after a difficult week in which the two countries tried and failed to come up with a trade agreement. We're trying to figure out what happens next, so we're turning to NPR's Jim Zarroli.

Jim, welcome. Thanks for joining us.


MARTIN: So before we talk about what's next, let's catch up on what happened. Chinese negotiators were in Washington this week to meet with members of the Trump administration. What actually happened at these talks?

ZARROLI: Well, the Chinese vice premier, Liu He, who is very high up in the government, came to Washington Thursday. The two sides met Thursday evening, then again on Friday. They broke off rather early in the afternoon saying they would meet again at some point in the future. But there hasn't been any meeting scheduled at this point, although President Trump is supposed to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G-20 summit in Japan in June.

MARTIN: You know, at the beginning of the week, President Trump put out some angry tweets accusing the Chinese of reneging on some commitments they had made. What do we know about that?

ZARROLI: I think, in general, there's a real feeling in the Trump administration that China has a history of making promises about changing its business practices and then not following through on them, especially on issues like intellectual property theft and the forced transfer of technology. So there's been a lot of unhappiness about that. And then, this week, the president said because of the - China had reneged on its commitments, he was prepared to raise existing tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports from 10 to 25 percent. And that actually happened on Friday.

MARTIN: And the president said today that he wants even more tariffs on China. Would it be fair to assume that China might retaliate, and, if so, how?

ZARROLI: Yeah. I mean, the president has ordered his staff to draw up paperwork to put tariffs on, you know, another $300 billion in imports, which would mean there would be there tariffs on just about everything China sells to the U.S. - I mean, clothes, furniture, food products, machinery, you know, intermediate goods that go into manufacturing. And China has said it will retaliate with tariffs of its own. So this would reach really far into the economies of both countries. Just about everything brought into the United States would have this extra cost tacked onto it. These - you know, these are the two largest economies in the world, so this will be a huge deal, both for these countries and for the global economy.

MARTIN: So what do we think will happen if they can't resolve their differences?

ZARROLI: You know, who knows? There are some big issues on the table right now. We really can't gloss over them. At the same time, there is a certain amount of posturing going on. You know, President Trump considers himself, you know, a dealmaker. So you have to ask how much of this is just a kind of a negotiating ploy, just posturing. Because both countries are - at the same time they're saying all this, they're also saying the talks will continue.

I mean, the Chinese vice premier said today in an interview - he said small setbacks are normal and inevitable during negotiations. He said he's optimistic. And, you know, President Trump put out a tweet yesterday saying he still has a good relationship with Xi Jinping. So it seems like the temperature has come down a bit.

MARTIN: All right. That's NPR's Jim Zarroli.

Jim, thank you.

ZARROLI: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.