The White House’s top trade adviser has accused “globalist billionaires” of trying to pressure President Donald Trump into ending his tariff brinkmanship with China, saying their “shuttle diplomacy” to Beijing meant that any truce would have a “stench around it”.
Peter Navarro, the most prominent China hawk in Mr Trump’s inner circle of economic advisers, called on Wall Street to “get out of the negotiations” and warned that if a deal is reached when the president meets with Xi Jinping at a G20 summit in Argentina this month, it would have “imprimatur of Goldman Sachs”.
Mr Navarro’s attack on Friday comes two months after the Chinese government invited some of Wall Street’s most prominent financiers to Beijing for talks with Wang Qishan, China’s powerful vice-president, as part of an effort aimed at easing trade tensions with Washington.
Stephen Schwarzman, chief executive of Blackstone, was among those invited and has served as a key conduit between Beijing and Washington with access to top officials on both sides, including Mr Trump. Mr Schwarzman could not be reached for comment.
Henry Paulson, former US Treasury secretary and Goldman Sachs chief, and John Thornton, former president of Goldman Sachs and a professor at Tsinghua University, have also served as trusted intermediaries between the two countries. Chinese officials have increasingly questioned their degree of influence on Mr Trump.
Mr Navarro accused a “self-appointed group of Wall Street bankers and hedge fund managers” that were part of a Chinese “influence operation” of putting a “full court press” on the White House ahead of the G20 meeting.
“The mission of these unregistered foreign agents, that’s what they are . . . is to pressure this president into some kind of deal,” Mr Navarro said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think-tank. He called on Wall Street to put its money in “Dayton, Ohio” instead.
Mr Navarro’s intervention suggests China hawks within Mr Trump’s circle are trying to scupper the chances of a trade deal along the lines of the EU’s truce with the US in July between Mr Trump and Mr Xi, China’s president on the sidelines of the G20.
Others in the administration, including Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, and Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, have been more willing to forge a deal with Beijing in order to prevent a full out economic conflict in the coming months.
Mr Trump has imposed tariffs on about $250bn of Chinese imports and threatened to increase the levy on the bulk of those products from 10 per cent to 25 per cent in January if Beijing does not accept American demands on its economic policies.
Mr Trump has said that a deal with Mr Xi was possible at the G20 summit, raising hopes among investors and officials that a ceasefire could be in store at the summit to stave off any further escalation. Mr Xi has failed to tone down his contentious rhetoric, recently hitting out at “law of the jungle” trade policies.
The attack came just as the US and China were holding a high-level meeting in Washington aimed at resolving some of the thornier issues dividing them.
The Chinese delegation was led by Yang Jiechi, a state councillor with responsibility for foreign affairs. Mr Yang has spent several days in Washington trying to determine whether there was scope for the two leaders to reach an agreement at the G20.
Mr Yang met John Bolton, the US national security adviser, earlier in the week, but did not meet Mr Trump, according to people familiar with his visit. His meeting with Mr Bolton was joined by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, according to two people familiar with the talks.
Mr Navarro’s comments came as he mounted a robust defence of Mr Trump’s protectionist trade policies, saying the president had the “courage and wisdom to stand up to the globalist elite” that was using the US as the “bank of the world”.
“He didn’t need the help of Wall Street, he didn’t need the help of Goldman Sachs, and he doesn’t need it now,” Mr Navarro said. “When these unpaid foreign agents engage in this kind of diplomacy, so-called diplomacy, all they do is weaken this president and his negotiating position. No good can come of this.”
Mr Navarro vowed that any deal with Beijing will be done on Mr Trump’s own terms, “not Wall Street terms”.
“If Wall Street is involved and continues to insinuate itself into these negotiations, there will be a stench, a stench around any deal that is consummated, because it will have the imprimatur of Goldman Sachs and Wall Street,” he said.
Mr Navarro, the author of a book called “Death by China”, has long been one of Beijing’s most ardent critics within the administration, warning that China was guilty of a campaign of “economic aggression” against the US that was even threatening the US defence supply chain.