Feb 25, 2019 - Politics & Policy

Trump's grand bargains

Illustration of Xi Jinping, Donald Trump, and Kim Jong-un being examined by a large magnifying glass.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The three words to watch at President Trump's pair of summits over the next month: verifiable, measurable and enforceable.

Driving the news: Trump is on his way to Vietnam, where he'll meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. He'll then host Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago sometime in March. On Monday, he teased a "signing summit" with Xi, saying negotiators are "getting very, very close."

The big picture: It’s hard to find anyone in government who believes North Korea or China are willing to make the dramatic shifts Trump believes he can bring about — complete denuclearization for North Korea and immense structural changes for China.

China’s leaders are masters at playing the Americans. They’ve done so over multiple administrations — and they don’t even acknowledge that they steal U.S. intellectual property on a vast, state-sponsored scale.

  • Xi remains committed to his "Made in China 2025" advanced manufacturing strategy to give Chinese high-tech companies advantages over American ones and would, if successful, prevent Trump from achieving his trade goals.
  • A source close to the negotiations described the debate with the Chinese over the important "structural" issues as a "death march."

North Korea’s leaders are even craftier than the Chinese negotiators. "No one has played [a hand of] two 2s better than they have," said a former senior U.S. official with extensive experience negotiating with North Korea.

  • The Trump team hopes to get a roadmap to denuclearization from this week's Hanoi summit, but Kim doesn't appear to have even made the basic decision to denuclearize. 

The bottom line: Whatever wins Trump may tout in his post-summit rhetoric, check the fine print.

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