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Photo: Shawn Thew, Pool/Getty Images

Who knows how the chest-bumping over China ends. But for now, President Trump’s anti-China advisers are right: The president is buckling on his threats to punish China with fundamental, lasting changes to trade tariffs and rules. 

The big picture: The reasons are threefold: North Korea, Steve Mnuchin and a lack of focus internally. 

1. North Korea 

  • It's TBD whether Trump got played by China on the trade war that's now "on h0ld." But North Korea politics clearly played a big role: Trump desperately wants the upcoming summit in Singapore to work. Going hard against China now could derail an already fraught journey to the summit.
  • So the White House is stuck in limbo, with a divided administration team and the Chinese offering easy, flashy wins that will likely have little long-term impact on the trade deficit.
  • It's very possible the U.S. team cut a deal that sounds good in a press release, but does little to change Chinese behavior.

2. Mnuchin 

  • Trump chose Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — a moderate and free trader — to be point man on the China negotiations.
  • Remember it was Mnuchin who led the delegation and was in the one-on-ones with Chinese economic adviser Liu He in Beijing.
  • Mnuchin is more willing to compromise with China than U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer or trade adviser Peter Navarro, who are the most hardcore China hawks in senior administration positions in recent memory.

3. Fleeting attention

  • The president's attention is spread too thin — Iran, North Korea, Mueller and more — to wage a sustained battle with China.
  • Aides describe a White House deluged with big decisions and scant deciders — and a president perpetually obsessed and distracted by Mueller.

Be smart ... The Chinese have played this beautifully:

  • They know Trump wants Singapore to work, and that they hold the cards on North Korea.
  • And they know that Trump is obsessed with one number — the trade deficit.
  • He wants concrete things to boast about (jobs and buying American products).
  • No matter their promises, they can’t deliver a meaningful change in the trade deficit. But they can promise to buy billions of politically-useful U.S. products.

Breaking ... "China will cut the import duty on passenger cars to 15 percent, boosting auto makers such as BMW AG and Ford Motor Co.," per Bloomberg:

  • "While the levy reduction could be claimed ... as a concession to Trump and will be a boon to U.S. carmakers such as Tesla Inc., the move will also end up benefiting European and Asian manufacturers from Daimler AG to Toyota."
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Go deeper

Updated 36 mins ago - World

Pentagon: 8,500 troops on high alert for possible deployment to eastern Europe

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has placed 8,500 U.S. troops on "heightened preparedness to deploy" to eastern Europe in case NATO activates its rapid-response force over tensions with Russia, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Why it matters: No decisions have been made to deploy U.S. forces, but the heightened alert level will allow the military to rapidly shore up NATO's eastern flank in the event that Russia invades Ukraine. The Pentagon warned that Russia has shown "no signs of de-escalating," and continues to amass troops on Ukraine's borders.

Alabama's new congressional map rejected by federal judges

The Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery. Photo: Taylor Hill/Getty Images

Federal judges on Monday night blocked Alabama's newly drawn congressional map and ordered the Republican-led State Legislature to create a new one that includes two districts, rather than the planned one.

Why it matters: "Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress," the panel of three judges wrote in their ruling.

Australian Open organizers reverse "Where is Peng Shuai?" t-shirt ban

Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai during the 2020 Australian Open in Melbourne. Photo: Bai Xue/Xinhua via Getty Images

Australian Open organizers on Tuesday reversed a ban on t-shirts supporting Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai following widespread criticism.

Why it matters: Tennis Australia's announcement came less than 24 hours after the governing body defended the decision to ask fans last Friday to remove "Where is Peng Shuai?" t-shirts, citing ticket policy prohibiting political clothing, per the BBC.