Fri, Jan 17, 2020 - Page 6 News List

Trump signs China trade agreement

OFF-SCRIPT:The US president strayed from prepared remarks to criticize the ‘hoax’ of impeachment, decry Chinese trade practices and single out guests at the event


He listed familiar grievances, praised and criticized his guests, and seemed to blow off some steam.

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed a trade deal with China at a White House event that was part formal ceremony and part political theater.

Trump’s trade dispute with China has been a centerpiece of much of his presidency, and the ceremony to seal a “phase one” deal — held at the White House rather than at a more neutral location for the two sides — was a victory lap of sorts.

The Republican president relished the moment and the stage, but also used it to rail against impeachment, banter with visiting chief executives and lambaste China for past sins, even as its representatives stood stoically nearby.

A former reality TV star, Trump is known for stage-managing his events closely, and this one was no exception.

The president chose to sign the agreement himself, even though Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) sent a lower-level official to represent the Chinese side.

The ceremony started with the requisite pomp in the formal East Room, packed with guests and journalists from both countries, as the president paraded down a central aisle with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He (劉鶴) while a military band played Hail to the Chief.

Trump then began his remarks from a podium on the stage, reading from a teleprompter.

That did not last long.

While Liu and three other Chinese officials stood to his right, Trump strayed from his remarks with criticism of the “hoax” that he calls impeachment and of the way in which US-China trade was handled in the past.

“Since China joined the World Trade Organization two decades ago, we have racked up nearly US$5 trillion — the vice premier, I hope he’s not listening to this — in trade deficits, lost millions and millions of manufacturing jobs and saw tens of thousands of factories close,” Trump said.

“They were not doing things that they were supposed to be, and that’s okay, because now they will,” he added later.

Trump also introduced hordes of guests who were not on the stage, commenting on everything from Boeing’s troubles with its 737 MAX jetliner to his seeming regret over choosing Jerome Powell as US Federal Reserve chairman.

To former Fed governor Kevin Warsh, who Trump also considered for the position, the president said: “Why weren’t you more forceful when you wanted that job? Why weren’t you more forceful, Kevin... I would have been very happy with you.”

To new Boeing CEO David Calhoun, Trump alluded, from the stage, to the crisis over the 737 MAX, which has been grounded since March last year.

“Stand up, David. See, he didn’t want to stand. Let me tell you: It’s not your fault. You just got there. You’ll straighten it out quickly, please,” Trump said.

“We will,” Calhoun said from where he sat in the audience.

About 35 minutes into the ceremony, Trump returned to the teleprompter. Roughly 50 minutes in, he passed the microphone to US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who spoke briefly.

When it came time to sign, Trump sat down at a table on the stage and motioned spontaneously for US lawmakers in the room to come stand behind him. That prompted guests on the Chinese side, which cares deeply about protocol, to come up as well, crowding the stage and blocking the view.

Once the ceremony was officially over, the music started up again. This time the song was What a Wonderful World.

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