One part of the trade deal with China that President Donald Trump announced on Thursday is a total slap in the face to everyone who wanted him to be tough on China.
As part of the deal, the United States will send a delegation to Beijing for a forum on China's "One Belt, One Road" infrastructure initiative.
The initiative is meant to connect China to the world by building high-speed trains and highways in other countries.
China thinks of it as a modern-day Silk Road — a form of soft power that would display its ability to build modern infrastructure and connect the world.
You can see how the US getting involved in a Chinese-led pro-globalization initiative could drive nationalists like White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon up a wall.
Until this deal — which included China giving the US access to its beef market and parts of its financial-services industry — the US had no plans to attend the forum, and Chinese media was making a big deal of it. In one series of state-sponsored videos touting the forum, Erik Nilsson, an American journalist at China Daily, explained the importance of "One Belt, One Road" to his daughter as a series of bedtime stories.
Nilsson said in the videos that while 65 countries would attend the two-day event, the United States had not yet signed on. He shared his belief that this, of course, was a mistake, since the project is about globalization and is China's gift to the world.
"It's good for people. We live happier lives when we cooperate," he said. "That's why countries want to join the Belt and Road."
Cue Bannon grabbing his smelling salts.
This project isn't just a love song for globalization — it flies in the face of the "Buy American, Hire American" ideology Trump has touted. The entire point of "One Belt, One Road," after all, is China helping to build infrastructure projects in other countries.
And this is important to China not just because it wants to promote a globalized world — the country has tons of excess capacity in commodities like steel and aluminum, and a big international infrastructure push could help use some of that excess. Both the Trump and Obama administrations have been tough on China subsidizing those industries, or dumping excess capacity into US markets illegally.
It already was clear the tough-on-China Trump we met during the 2016 campaign was no longer with us. The first sign was when he let go of naming China a currency manipulator, finally admitting the country was no longer depressing the value of the yuan — though his timing on when that stopped is still wrong.
The second was his friendly meeting at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida with Chinese President Xi Jinping. After that, the Trump administration announced it would work on a 100-day trade cooperation initiative with the Chinese. That's where the new deal came from — and, in reality, deals like this fit the Trump ideology of bilateral trade deals that expand US market access.
The deals Trump has made so far mostly are ones the Obama administration would have pursued, too — but not this "One Belt, One Road" forum. That's Trump going above and beyond.
And some people who supported him probably aren't happy about that.
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