The U.S. trade deficit is steadily growing, and as Reuters reported yesterday, "the shortfall with China widening sharply." Donald Trump's vow to shrink the trade deficit quickly clearly isn't on track for success.
It's against this backdrop that the American president published an odd tweet yesterday.
"China has been asked to develop a plan for the year of a One Billion Dollar reduction in their massive Trade Deficit with the United States. Our relationship with China has been a very good one, and we look forward to seeing what ideas they come back with. We must act soon!"
Putting aside some grammatical concerns, this was a puzzling missive. The U.S. trade deficit with China last year was a little over $375 billion. We can certainly have a conversation about whether that's good or bad, but for Trump to ask Beijing to "develop a plan" to shrink that deficit by $1 billion is practically silly -- because even if China had an incentive to help the White House on this, what difference would it make to reduce the shortfall by a fraction of a percentage point?
Indeed, after Trump's strange tweet, it was only natural to wonder just how confused the president really is. Did the administration actually submit such a request? Was the $1 billion figure the result of some kind of negotiation? Was Trump just publishing random thoughts unrelated to any real policies?
This morning, the answers came into focus. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Trump administration really did submit a request for ideas from China on how best to reduce the trade deficit, but the goal is a $100 billion reduction.
Trump, in other words, was "off by $99 billion."
In the early months of his presidency, Trump repeatedly embarrassed himself with China, to the point that the American president became the subject of mockery in China's state-run media. One headline in April read, "Trump slaps self in face, again."
If Trump believes he's improved his reputation in Beijing since these incidents, I have a hunch he's going to be disappointed.