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International relations

Trump says trade war success can help 'heal' US divide

North Korea summit on track for early 2019 despite delayed prep meeting

U.S. President Donald Trump addresses a news conference following Tuesday's midterm congressional elections at the White House on Nov. 7.   © Reuters

NEW YORK -- U.S. President Donald Trump signaled on Wednesday that the trade war with China can play a part in remedying domestic divisions, just hours after the midterm election results showed Republicans in states thought vulnerable to retaliation from China emerged victorious.

When asked how to heal the divides in the country at a news conference, Trump replied: "One of the things I think can help heal is the success of our country." He gave trade relations with China as an example.

"Billions of dollars will soon be pouring into our treasury from taxes that China is paying for us," he said. "China's come down tremendously. China would have superseded us in two years as an economic power. Now they're not even close."

The election results seem to have emboldened Trump's resolve to continue to ratchet up the pressure on China, after watching many Democrats who opposed Trump's tariffs, such as Senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, lose their seats. Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who backed Trump's tariffs, managed to retain his seat.

Trump suggested that he had expressed his concerns about the Made in China 2025 policy to the Chinese and that they had dropped the program in response.

"China got rid of their China '25 because I found it very insulting," Trump told reporters.

"I said, China '25 is very insulting because China '25 means in 2025 they are going to take over, economically, the world," he said, adding, "I said, 'that's not happening.'"

Trump is expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping later this month at the Group of 20 meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where trade is expected to be among the main topics discussed. Though negotiations between the U.S. and China have reached an impasse, Trump suggested Wednesday that he expects a "good meeting" with his Chinese counterpart.

"We're going to try and make a deal with China because I want to have great relationships with President Xi, as I do, and also with China," he said.

While some experts have low expectations for progress on trade at the meeting, others believe that Trump may choose the summit to showcase his style of deal-making through the building of personal relationships.

Now that the midterm elections are over, "I think the president will want to come out of that [meeting] saying he's cut a deal," Kristie Kenney, a former U.S. ambassador to several countries, said at an event at the Asia Society in New York on Wednesday.

"I think he's very much going to want to come out of that meeting announcing a gain, a win, something moving forward," Kenney said.

Also speaking at the Asia Society, Daniel Russel, former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said that, while it remains unclear whether Trump believes it is time to make a deal, the president has a history of striking deals with little substance and has "a remarkable ability to sell" them.

But Russel noted that both Republicans and Democrats are likely to push back against a trade deal with China that fails to take into consideration other substantive U.S. concerns such as forced technology transfers, intellectual property theft and "Made in China 2025," Beijing's initiative to nurture homegrown robotics.

Trump also addressed plans for his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying Wednesday that the meeting is still expected to take place "sometime early next year," despite the last-minute cancellation of a meeting scheduled for Thursday between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and top North Korean official Kim Yong Chol.

The president and the State Department attributed the postponement to a scheduling conflict.

"We're going to make it on another day," Trump said. "But we're very happy how it's going with North Korea."

According to South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, the change was suggested by Pyongyang. "The North side said 'both of our schedules are busy, so let's postpone,'" Kang said. A senior South Korean foreign ministry official also played down the significance, saying there was no need to "overthink the postponement."

Trump insisted that there was "no rush" to reach the finish line on negotiations with North Korea toward denuclearization, noting that sanctions remain in place and will continue to exert pressure.

"I'd love to take the sanctions off, but they have to be responsive, too," Trump said of the North Korean side.

The United Nations Security Council is expected to hold a closed-door meeting on Thursday to discuss sanctions against the North, following a request from permanent council member Russia.

Both Russia and China -- also a permanent council member and rotating president of the council for the month of November -- have called for the relaxation of sanctions against North Korea to reward Pyongyang for the cessation of its nuclear and missile testing. The U.S. has refused to consider measures to reduce the pressure and continues to see sanctions as crucial leverage in its negotiations on the North's denuclearization.

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