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Trump rails against China during dinner with executives

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Over a dinner of beef tenderloin and lobster tail at his private golf club in Bedminster, N.J., President Donald Trump unleashed a rant about China as corporate executives listened on, reported South China Morning Post (Hong Kong).

The president entertained a group of 13 CEOs and senior White House staff at a dinner in the middle of his annual working vacation on Tuesday night. The dinner was billed as “an opportunity for the president to hear how the economy is doing...and what their priorities and thoughts are for the year ahead.”

But Trump spent a good portion of the dinner sharing his own thoughts, specifically about China.

Trump told the executives that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “One Belt One Road Initiative,” China’s economic plan that has the potential to disrupt trade worldwide, was “insulting” and that he didn’t want it, according to a person in the room. Trump said he had told Xi as much to his face.

Trump, who headed into vacation frustrated that China was retaliating against his tariffs, said it was going to be his priority to stop the rival world superpower from getting unfair trade advantages.

China has reacted to American tariffs on Chinese goods in kind, imposing new duties on $50 billion worth of American products. That retaliatory action has angered and surprised Trump, according to people familiar with his thinking.

Trump in April tweeted that "Xi and I will always be friends, no matter what happens with our dispute on trade," and that he saw a "great future for both countries!"

At one point during the dinner, Trump noted of an unnamed country that the attendee said was clearly China, “almost every student that comes over to this country is a spy.”

The White House declined to comment.

The 13 CEOs assembled included Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi, Fiat Chrysler CEO Michael Manley, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, Ernst & Young CEO Mark Weinberger and Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky, among others. The group included some longtime Trump friends, like supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis, Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy and New York City real estate developer Richard LeFrak.

Over dessert — a “signature Trump cookie,” served with Tahitian vanilla ice cream and chocolate and caramel sauces — Trump entertained questions from the executives, many of whom pressed him on immigration policy.

The business world, which wants the administration to soften its hard immigration policies, was told, exactly what it wanted to hear.

Twice during the dinner, Trump yelled over to Chris Lidell, a deputy chief of staff in attendance, and told him to prepare an executive order that would allow top performers in schools, who he called “first in their class,” to stay in the country for at least five years on a visa, the attendee said.

Trump also grilled the CEOs about what reforms he could enact that would help them. At one point when he was taking questions, the attendee said, Trump asked several attendees for advice on how to fix the student loan crisis.

The senior staffers who promote the most hard-line immigration policies, like Stephen Miller, were not in attendance. Instead, the president’s son-in-law and daughter, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, attended the dinner, along with economic adviser Larry Kudlow and others. Ivanka Trump last week called the family separations that have been occurring under her father’s watch a “low point” in her time serving in his administration.

Overall, according to the attendee, the dinner was a friendly gathering. Trump, who last year this time alienated the corporate world after his comments on race after Charlottesville, received a positive reaction from the same crowd on Tuesday night.

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Beijing warned it was ready to impose retaliatory tariffs on US$16 billion worth of American goods to match the finalised list of tariffs Washington released overnight, another escalation in the trade war that will loom large as China's top leaders gather for their annual summer summit, reported South China Morning Post (Hong Kong).

The announcement comes on the heels of the US publishing the list of Chinese products that will face 25 per cent duties starting on August 23, raising the value of punitive tariffs to US$50 billion from US$34 billion.

It comes after Beijing issued a rallying cry against Washington’s “stick of hegemony” in their intensifying trade war.

In an apparent rebuke of US President Donald Trump, state media featured a signed editorial decrying those who refuse to allow China to rise as a great power and instead use “selfish” tactics to contain it.

The lengthy commentary from Xinhua was identified as Xuan Yan, or “declaration”, indicating it is likely a reflection of thinking from the top echelons of the ruling Communist Party.

“Unwilling to see the lion awaken and the dragon in flight, or to witness 1.3 billion people lead happy lives, some people have taken the approach of unilateralism, protectionism, and trade bullying,” it said, an unspoken reference to the Trump administration’s America-first take on trade. “These are challenges that cannot be avoided, and must be dealt with.”

The piece, splashed across the front pages of major papers, comes as Chinese President Xi Jinping and other top leaders are at the seaside resort of Beidaihe for the elite summer gathering, where the escalating trade war with the US will likely top the agenda. The summer conclave represents a chance for top officials to take a break from day-to-day duties to focus on strategic deliberation.

“Certain people are selfishly moving against the tide of morality, wantonly building up trade barriers and wielding the stick of hegemony,” it said. “Although they may be pleased with themselves for now, they can hardly resolve the deep disputes of economic imbalance and political disorder, they will eventually shoot themselves in the foot.”

Beijing has already been forced to take a more restrained approach in the trade war, threatening a range of retaliatory tariffs from 5 to 25 per cent on US$60 billion in US goods last week, as it finds itself unable to take a direct tit-for-tat approach to US tariffs. The back-and-forth salvoes have already seen the White House raise the spectre of levying tariffs on another US$200 billion in Chinese products, with Trump warning he is prepared to raise the amount to all US$500 billion imports.

Analysts say China’s latest spectrum-based countermeasures, with lower duties assigned to goods that would be more difficult to substitute from the US market, suggests a focus on mitigating damage to its domestic economy. The strategy of self-preservation comes in the midst of stalled trade negotiations between both sides, with the dispute expected to stretch past the November US midterm elections.

At the heart of the conflict is Washington’s charge that Beijing has long engaged in unfair trade and intellectual property practices, with forced technology transfers that have fuelled its “Made in China 2025” industrial policy, one China is unlikely to give up in its ambitions to become a technological superpower.

As rumblings of discontent have emerged among China’s liberal intellectuals over Beijing’s handling of the trade dispute, observers believe the bitter trade conflict between the world’s two largest economies will be one of the greatest tests of Xi’s second term.

The Xinhua piece avoided directly referencing Trump’s policies, a sign of restraint from earlier state media attacks on Trump’s “arrogance.” It instead touted China’s four decades of economic advancement, with this year the 40th anniversary of the country’s “reform and opening up”, and insisted the country could weather any storms that lie ahead.

“China is still one of the countries with the best development, greatest potential, and resilience,” it said. “Nothing can stop the Chinese people, our path towards building better lives.

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