Earlier this week, President Trump raised eyebrows when he told reporters of a phone call he had held with North Korea, in which he warned the dangerous rogue state it must de-nuclearize. (His administration later admitted quietly Trump had actually spoken with South Korea, not North Korea.) This week, Trump ventured another strange foreign policy pronouncement. He had asked China to produce a plan to reduce its trade deficit by One Billion Dollars. He even capitalized it to underscore the significance of the towering sum he proposed to extract:
China has been asked to develop a plan for the year of a One Billion Dollar reduction in their massive Trade Deficit with the United States. Our relationship with China has been a very good one, and we look forward to seeing what ideas they come back with. We must act soon!
– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 7, 2018
This demand was incredibly puzzling to trade economists, and regular economists, and anybody who had ever read a couple paragraphs in a random business story. China runs a trade surplus of $375 billion with the United States. Trump was demanding a reduction of 0.3 percent, or less than a single day’s worth of imports.
The Wall Street Journal‘s Lingling Wei reports that the demand was actually supposed to be $100 billion. It is not clear how the Trump administration arrived at this figure, but it is a round number, which Trump is known to prefer, and is also the sum Dr. Evil demanded from the United Nations after also mistakenly opening the negotiation by demanding too little:
This is not the kind of deft maneuvering Americans expected when they elected a famed negotiator to the presidency to make the Best Deals. Alas, The Art of the Deal does not include any chapters about starting off a negotiation by making a ludicrously tiny ask because you don’t understand anything about the scale of the numbers involved.