Trump backs China trade deal after aide claims Beijing sent hundreds of thousands of people to ‘spread coronavirus’

White House adviser triggered stock sell-off with remark that agreement was 'over'

Josh Dawsey,Jeff Stein
Tuesday 23 June 2020 10:45 BST
Trump confirms he held off on sanctions over China concentration camps for fear it would affect trade deal

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Louise Thomas

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Donald Trump went on Twitter late on Monday to quell an international incident caused by one of his aides hours earlier as White House officials struggled to convey a consistent China strategy.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, an unabashed China hawk, said in a Fox Business interview on Monday evening that the trade deal Mr Trump signed with Beijing in January was “over”.

The comments triggered a sell-off in stock futures, an index the president watches closely.

Shortly after 10pm, Mr Trump tweeted: “The China Trade Deal is fully intact. Hopefully they will continue to live up to the terms of the Agreement!”

As part of Mr Navarro's provocative Fox Business interview, he also alleged without offering any evidence that China had sent hundreds of thousands of people “to spread that virus” in the US.

“It's over, yes,” Mr Navarro said when asked about the status of the trade deal during that interview.

Mr Navarro has a special status in the White House; he often goes on television shows and says what he likes, discarding administration talking points. His comments on Monday, however, clearly upset other White House officials and prompted a swift rebuttal.

Soon after Mr Navarro made his comments, White House National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow, speaking to The Washington Post, said: “The China trade deal is still intact.”

A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to frankly discuss internal matters, said Mr Navarro was not speaking for the administration when he made the comments about the deal being over.

Mr Navarro later told Reuters his comments had been “wildly” taken out of context and did not pertain to the trade deal with China.

“They had nothing at all to do with the Phase 1 trade deal, which continues in place. I was simply speaking to the lack of trust we now have of the Chinese Communist Party after they lied about the origins of the China virus and foisted a pandemic upon the world,” Mr Navarro said.

The mixed signals from the White House come as factions within the administration jockey over how the US should respond to China's role in the pandemic. Mr Navarro has blamed Beijing for allowing its representatives to visit the US in January, when the coronavirus was beginning to spread rapidly across China. He told Fox Business that the moment amounted to a “turning point” in relations between the superpowers.

The president repeatedly has cited the trade deal as one of the top economic policy accomplishments of his administration, and other senior advisers have urged a more cautious approach. But Mr Trump appears to have soured on the trade deal recently, and last week he wrote on Twitter that the option of a “complete decoupling” between the US and China was on the table.

The Washington Post

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