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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

With China’s economy cooling, President Trump and his aides are emboldened on the hardline tariffs strategy that they increasingly believe is jamming President Xi Jinping, officials tell Axios.

Why it matters: For West Wing policy advisers, China has become a rare unifying issue, while deep rifts remain on other trade issues, especially the wisdom of Trump’s plan to impose massive tariffs on car imports.

The Wall Street Journal reports in today's lead story: "The Trump administration is moving closer ... to levying tariffs on nearly half of Chinese imports despite broad opposition from U.S. business."

Here's why:

A member of Congress who recently spoke at length with Trump about trade said: "He thinks he’s right and he thinks he’s winning."

  • "He's resolved to be the guy that changes the world trading system. ... He's willing to take some pain to do it."
  • "Trade is the one policy issue he feels comfortable with: He owns it, and he's 100 percent convinced he's right."
  • Most administration aides and congressional Republicans oppose the imposition of auto tariffs, although Trump remains warm to the idea.
  • But no one is pushing back on China.

Based on news reports out of China (Wall Street Journal, Aug. 14, from Beijing: "China’s Growth Engine Sputters as It Battles U.S. Over Trade"), some administration officials believe Trump is winning his fight with Beijing.

  • "They're shaken up," one senior official told us.
  • Sources who have spoken to White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow marvel that the famous free-trader is an unapologetic "China hawk" (although he has been confrontational with China going back to his CNBC days).
  • A senior administration official said: "The president is all-in, 100 percent on China."
  • After an administration negotiating trip to China, there was internal speculation that there might be what the hawks called "an appeasement deal" where China bought off Trump with an agreement to buy more soybeans and other American products.
  • But that's now off the table, in part because the White House feels China has made no changes in practices the U.S. objects to, including its theft and heavy-handed acquisition of American companies' intellectual property and technology.

The member of Congress said: "They think internally that because China sells so much more to the U.S. than the U.S. sells to China, this is a war they can win."

  • However, many economists remain skeptical. And the administration has little true visibility into what Xi thinks.
  • One Trump adviser told us that they urged the president to limit the number of trade fights he picks around the world: "The goal is to isolate China."
  • So fights over NAFTA and Europe become a distraction.

Most of Trump’s top economic and trade officials adamantly oppose these auto tariffs. Trade adviser Peter Navarro is a lonely internal advocate alongside the president.

  • Two sources who recently spoke to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis came away thinking that he would not support a national security argument for the imposition of auto tariffs.

Be smart: If Trump carries out his threats on auto tariffs, it could be the act that provokes a Republican rebellion on Capitol Hill.

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Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - World

UK government: Kremlin has plan "to install pro-Russian leadership" in Ukraine

British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss. Photo: Gints Ivuskans / AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary on Saturday night said the government has "information that indicates the Russian Government is looking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv as it considers whether to invade and occupy Ukraine."

Driving the news: U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne called the intelligence "deeply concerning" in a statement to Axios. The Biden administration has said Russia is actively manufacturing a pretext for invasion and warned that Putin could use joint military exercises in Belarus as cover to invade from the north.

Updated 2 hours ago - Science

This powerful new accelerator looks for keys to the center of atoms

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Nuclear physicists trying to piece together how atoms are built are about to get a powerful new tool.

Why it matters: When the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams begins experiments later this spring, physicists from around the world will use the particle accelerator to better understand the inner workings of atoms that make up all the matter that can be seen in the universe.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: FDA OKs antiviral drug remdesivir for non-hospitalized COVID patients — Walensky: CDC language "pivoting" on "fully vaccinated" — Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Teens and adults missed 37 million vaccinations during COVID — Team USA 100% vaccinated against COVID ahead of Beijing Olympics — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America — Annual COVID vaccine preferable to boosters, says Pfizer CEO.
  3. Politics: Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates — Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults — Beijing officials urge COVID-19 "emergency mode" before Winter Olympics.
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