The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir by John Bolton:
Dinner started at five forty-five, after the mandatory session with the press mob for pictures, and lasted until eight o’clock. Xi began by telling Trump how wonderful he was, laying it on thick. Xi read steadily through note cards, doubtless all of it hashed out arduously in advance planning for this summit. For us, the President ad-libbed, with no one on the US side knowing what he would say from one minute to the next. One highlight came when Xi said he wanted to work with Trump for six more years, and Trump replied that people were saying that the two-term constitutional limit on Presidents should be repealed for him. I was aware of no such chatter. Knowing Xi was effectively “President for life” in China, Trump was trying to compete with him. Later in the dinner, Xi said the US had too many elections, because he didn’t want to switch away from Trump, who nodded approvingly. (Indeed, in a subsequent telephone conversation on December 29, Xi said expressly that China hoped Trump would have another term by amending the Constitution so he could stay longer.) Xi denied the idea of the “100-year marathon” to gain world dominance, or replace the United States, saying that was not China’s natural strategy. They respected our sovereignty and our interests in Asia, and merely wanted the 1.4 billion Chinese to enjoy a better life. How nice.
Xi finally shifted to substance, saying that since their November 1 phone call, their staffs had worked hard and reached consensus on the key economic issues. He then described China’s positions, essentially what Mnuchin had earlier urged we agree to: the US would roll back Trump’s existing tariffs; there would be no competitive currency manipulation; and we would agree not to engage in cyber thievery (how thoughtful). There were no winners in a trade war, said Xi, so we should eliminate the current tariffs, or at least agree there would be no new tariffs. “People expect this,” said Xi, and I feared at that moment that Trump would simply say yes to everything Xi had laid out. He came close, unilaterally offering that US tariffs would remain at 10 percent rather than rise to 25 percent as he had threatened. In exchange, Trump asked merely for some increases in farm-product purchases (to help with the crucial farm-state vote). If that could be agreed, all the tariffs would be reduced. Intellectual property was left to be worked out at some unspecified point. There would be a ninety-day period of negotiations to get everything done. It was breathtaking. Then he asked Lighthizer if he had left anything out, and Lighthizer did what he could to get the conversation back onto the place of reality, focusing on the structural issues and ripping apart the Chinese proposal so beloved by Mnuchin.
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