Xi wants to impress him, but Trump needs to remember his promises to workers.
President Trump is in Asia right now, where he’s meeting with world leaders, visiting American troops stationed abroad, and also going golfing.
But on Wednesday, Trump faces his biggest trade test yet when he heads to China to meet with President Xi Jinping.
Xi is riding high, having just been granted extraordinary new powers that have the potential to reshape the global landscape. Trump, meanwhile, is facing record low approval ratings and also is losing key support in rural areas and the industrial heartland — think Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania — including among the workers who helped put him into office. (Plus there’s the cloud of the ongoing Russia investigation, but that’s another story.)
Newsweek interviewed Cindy Estrada, the vice president of the General United Auto Workers union, who had a few thoughts on why Trump’s approval numbers are down:
“Workers are changing their minds about Trump because they’re ‘seeing things that President Trump promised that he’s not following through with… He hasn’t followed through on bringing jobs back. He has not followed through on protecting workers’ rights.’”
The China visit is an opportunity for Trump to step up and actually do something tangible for more than 12 million American manufacturing workers and the communities they support. Alliance for American Manufacturing President Scott Paul had a few ideas for the president, including:
- Reducing Industrial Overcapacity: China repeatedly has promised to reduce its production of industrial goods, including steel, aluminum, cement and more. It repeatedly has broken those promises. Trump needs to press China for verifiable and enforceable net reductions in overcapacity.
- Tackling Cyber Theft: There’s no doubt that Chinese interests have stolen trade secrets and valuable intellectual property assets from American companies. Action is needed to ensure the creativity and entrepreneurism of American companies are better protected.
- Addressing State-Owned Enterprises: The communist Chinese government uses state-owned and state-directed enterprises to distort free markets and limit access to its own market. The United States should not award trade concessions to China – like with a bilateral investment treaty – until it can demonstrate on a sustained basis a commitment to an open market.
- Detering Currency Manipulation: Trump pledged to label China a currency manipulator on his first day in office (a promise he’s since broken). But he can still use the trip to press for strong, enforceable rules that penalize currency cheating.
There’s also one more thing that Trump can do right now that doesn’t even require meeting with China — finally unveiling the two national security investigations into steel and aluminum imports.
As we’ve noted many, many times, these “Section 232” investigations are crucial to American workers and our national security. Tens of thousands of workers have faced layoffs, and dozens of factories have closed because of China’s steel and aluminum overcapacity, and that’s putting entire industry at risk. That, in turn, threatens our national security, since we need steel and aluminum to equip our troops and build critical infrastructure.
Trump promised action by July 1. He has yet to deliver. That’s making the problem worse; steel imports alone are up more than 20 percent, and two additional plants in Pennsylvania recently announced they were closing because of the continued imports crisis.
Nearly 70 members of the bipartisan Congressional Steel Caucus urged Trump to release the Section 232 investigation in a letter sent to him last week. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) even put a hold on two of Trump's trade policy nominees in an attempt to pressure the president to act. But the investigations remain stalled.
And now Trump is headed to China, where Xi is prepping to pull out all the stops to impress him. China’s ambassador to the United States told Reuters the president should expect a “state visit-plus.” For his part, Trump seems to really like Xi, congratulating the Chinese leader on his “extraordinarily elevation.”
Trump is the president, and it’s certainly his duty to build working relationships with key world leaders. But he’d be wise to remember American workers — some of whom voted to put him in office — and finally make good on his promises to them.
Trump talked a big game on trade during the election and his first few months in office. He hasn’t yet delivered. This trip to China is a make-or-break moment that will prove whether he can actually get the job done.