Just over a week ago, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin declared that America’s trade war with China was “on hold,” following trade talks in Washington that appeared to yield concrete results.
“We are putting the trade war on hold. Right now, we have agreed to put the tariffs on hold while we try to execute the framework,” Mnuchin said in a television interview on Fox News.
Then, in a surprise announcement on Tuesday – timed just ahead of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ arrival in Beijing on Saturday – the White House said that tariffs are back on.
“The United States will impose a 25 percent tariff on $50 billion of goods imported from China containing industrially significant technology, including those related to the ‘Made in China 2025’ program. The final list of covered imports will be announced by June 15, 2018, and tariffs will be imposed on those imports shortly thereafter,” the statement said.
If one is curious whether the reversal is merely a negotiating ploy, they might simply look to other recent posts to the Trump administration’s website.
Last week the White House published a letter on its website from President Donald Trump to his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong-un, declaring that a planned June 12 summit was canceled.
The unexpected announcement was met with some surprise, in light of Trump’s unbridled enthusiasm for the meeting, and most – including White House staff tasked with briefing the press – thought it meant a summit would at least be postponed. But Trump called word from his staff to a large group of reporters that holding any meeting as soon as June 12 would be impossible “fake news.”
On Sunday, Trump tweeted that “our United States team has arrived in North Korea to make arrangements for the Summit between Kim Jong Un and myself,” without any mention to his recent cancellation of the summit.
In the ongoing trade talks with Washington, Beijing might well be skeptical that any threats of tariffs being back on the table, after being “on hold,” are not in short order going to be put back “on hold.”