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On GPS: Is Trump a friend or foe to China?
02:36 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

President Donald Trump has cast himself as tough on China and promised that his trade negotiations with Beijing would economically benefit everyday Americans, even as Trump-owned properties have continued to contribute to the trade deficit with the country he rails about.

Since September of last year, Trump properties in the US have imported more than eight tons of goods from China, CNN has learned by reviewing US customs data compiled by ImportGenius, which tracks information companies are legally bound to provide to US customs when they import goods to the US. The imports have arrived to decorate his properties while the President has sought to dress down China.

More than six tons of tables were delivered to Trump International Hotel in New York last fall. On the same day, Trump tweeted, “We are doing very well in our negotiations with China.”

‘Pawns’ of China

A shipment of two tons of wooden and glass showcase cabinets arrived at the Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles from Shanghai just two months ago. Meanwhile Trump has increasingly gone after China for the country’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Trump tweeted about the “incompetence of China” and accused them of “mass Worldwide killing” two days after the cabinets arrived in LA.

Trump has said he left the running of his business empire to his sons when he became President but did not completely relinquish control of the companies in which he still has stake, and it is unclear how much of a role, if any, he plays in the day-to-day business.

Imports to Trump’s properties are at odds with the economic nationalism of his “Make America Great Again” slogan.

The preferences of the businesses bearing Trump’s name also appear to be very different from the preferences Trump has called on US executive agencies to embrace.

Trump issued an April 2017 executive order that federal agencies should “Buy American” and then doubled down on that message in January 2019, issuing an executive order on “Buy-American Preferences” for infrastructure projects, and then in July of that year signing an order on “Maximizing Use of American-Made Goods, Products, and Materials,” that announced his administration would enforce the Buy American Act of 1933 “to the greatest extent permitted by law.”

The Trump organization’s Chinese purchases also contradict messages coming from the members of his own Cabinet warning Americans to be wary of doing business with China.

The White House did not provide a comment and the Trump organization did not reply to requests for comment.

Attorney General William Barr accused Hollywood and Silicon Valley of being “pawns” of the Chinese government in a speech Thursday. He also warned American businessmen who push for China-friendly policies that their work could amount to a violation of foreign lobbying laws.

Earlier in the week Trump announced he was signing legislation, sent to his desk by Congress, to sanction businesses and individuals that help China restrict Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Trump also delivered a lengthy rebuke of former Vice President Joe Biden and China as he spoke with reporters in the Rose Garden last week, saying that Biden’s “entire career has been a gift to the Chinese Communist Party” and has been “devastating for the American worker.”

Biden and his campaign have said that Trump has failed to stand up to China in seeking to combat the coronavirus pandemic. “He ignored the warnings of health experts and intelligence agencies, and put his trust in China’s leaders instead,” Biden said earlier this year.

The China issue has become a leading election year topic as Trump and Biden each attempt to paint the other as weak in the face of aggression from Beijing. Both sides have used the issue in campaign ads.

‘Fully responsible’

In the latest push to punish China, Trump administration officials have been floating the idea of banning members of China’s Communist Party from entering the US, the NYT reported, citing people familiar with the proposal.

It is not clear how far Trump would go in escalating tensions with China right now due to the potential negative effects that could have on the US economy, which has already been bruised by the coronavirus pandemic, administration officials have told CNN.

Last week Trump has said that he is not interested in a second phase trade deal with Beijing, as the tensions between the two countries have mounted amid the coronavirus pandemic and as China clamps down on Hong Kong’s autonomy. Trump also said last week that China is “buying a lot” after the deal was struck but provided no specific figures.

Trump has also said that he has not talked to President Xi Jinping, does not have plans to speak to him and said the US holds China “fully responsible for concealing the virus and unleashing it upon the world.” Less than six months ago, Trump was sounding a completely different tune.

“China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus,” Trump tweeted on January 24, “The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!”

Before that, when the “phase one” trade deal was signed by Trump in January, he promised it would propel economic security.

“Together we are righting the wrongs of the past and delivering a future of economic justice and security,” Trump said from the East Room of the White House just as lawmakers at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue were preparing to vote on two articles of impeachment. “Most people thought this could never happen,” he said.

The phase one deal did not address the major structural changes to the relationship between the US and the Chinese economy that Trump has sought. And it’s not clear whether China will meet its commitment under phase one to buy an additional $200 billion in US goods and services this year and next.

Trump’s efforts to achieve the deal – using tariffs as a tool, which resulted in higher costs for US companies – also hurt the US economy. A report from Moody’s Analytics in September said that the trade war with China, which started in 2018, cost 300,000 jobs through September, based on an economic simulation.