'We won't back down.' Donald Trump talks tough on China trade ahead of high-stakes meeting

David Jackson and John Fritze
The day before big trade talks between the U.S. and China, Trump said the Chinese hope they'll be able to negotiate with a Democratic president.
President Donald Trump and China President Xi Jinping

WASHINGTON – On the eve of high-stakes trade talks with China, President Donald Trump used a rally in Florida to ramp up his rhetoric about the prospects of a new agreement to de-escalate a widening tariff battle with Beijing.  

"We won't back down until China stops stealing our jobs," Trump told the audience of a rally in Panama City Beach on Wednesday. "We don't have to do business with them."

While claiming earlier in the day that a Chinese trade delegation is "coming to the U.S. to make a deal," Trump also said the trade rivals may be pulling back from an agreement in the hopes that a Democratic president will be elected in 2020.

"They broke the deal," Trump told supporters. "They can’t do that."

U.S. and Chinese negotiators are scheduled to meet Thursday, four days after Trump threatened new tariffs if China refused to sign onto a new trade agreement.

While Trump said China wants a deal, he has said he is also happy with tariffs that he claims put "over $100 Billion a year" in U.S. coffers – a claim most economists say is the wrong analysis because China retaliates with tariffs of its own, and both countries pass on the costs of tariffs to consumers.

Tariff revenue "is a transfer of wealth from Americans to the government, with new tariffs hitting more consumer goods and lower-income households," said Riley Walters, a policy analyst for Asia's economy and technology with The Heritage Foundation. "Chinese don't pay American taxes."

As in past rallies, Trump focused heavily on trade as he spoke in Florida. Turning to the 2020 presidential election, the president mocked the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg, suggesting he would not be an effective negotiator on trade with China. 

Earlier Wednesday, Trump suggested China was waiting for the results of the election. 

"The reason for the China pullback & attempted renegotiation of the Trade Deal is the sincere HOPE that they will be able to 'negotiate' with Joe Biden or one of the very weak Democrats, and thereby continue to ripoff the United States (($500 Billion a year)) for years to come," Trump said in a tweet.

He added in a follow-up: "Guess what, that’s not going to happen!"

Biden allies and other critics said Trump is damaging the trade talks with threats of tariffs that wind up hurting Americans.

The administration wants an agreement that will stop what it calls China's unfair trade practices, including theft of U.S. intellectual property and trade secrets, forced technology transfers, and currency manipulation. China denies those claims, but said it wants to maintain a good trade relationship with the U.S.

Trump's latest tweet threatening more tariffs included an attack on Biden, the former vice president and current candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.

Biden's campaign said Trump has done a poor job of negotiating with China, and that his tariffs have only boomeranged to hurt American farmers, business people and consumers.

Biden "will invest in our core strengths & ensure that US & our allies write rules of the road re: China," tweeted Kate Bedingfield, deputy campaign manager for Biden.

On Sunday, Trump said on Twitter that by Friday he would increase tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from 10% to 25%. Trump also threatened a 25% tariff on an additional $325 billion of imported goods as he protested the pace of trade talks.

"The Trade Deal with China continues, but too slowly, as they attempt to renegotiate. No!" Trump said.

Global markets dropped in the wake of Trump's threat, as investors feared new U.S. tariffs and Chinese retaliatory tariffs will raise prices for consumers and slow the global economy.

On Wednesday, the U.S. trade representative's office filed an official notice of new tariffs that would take effect at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, a minute after the end of the day of talks with the Chinese.

China reportedly considered abandoning those talks after Trump's threat. But on Tuesday it announced it would send a trade delegation to Washington to meet with U.S. counterparts on Thursday and Friday. China's delegation includes its key player: Liu He, China's vice premier and lead trade negotiator.

If Trump follows through on his threat to place levies on an additional $325 billion in goods, every Chinese product imported into the United States would be subject to a tariff.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'We won't back down.' Donald Trump talks tough on China trade ahead of high-stakes meeting