Donald Trump likes making phone calls. Phone calls mean business. You get to lean one arm on the table and look a bit like JFK or Martin Sheen in The West Wing. Plus you can wang the receiver down to make a point. Phone calls are great.
He’s also been known to make phone calls which take place almost entirely within his own brain. Remember that time he pretended he’d had to take a call at a Saturday Night Live table read about how his book was at the top of the charts? Well, he’s apparently been at it again.
You might remember that at the G7 meeting last week Trump said his long-running trade war with China might come to an end soon.
“China called last night our top trade people and said, ‘Let’s get back to the table.’ So we will be getting back to the table and I think they want to do something,” Trump told reporters. “They have been hurt very badly but they understand this is the right thing to do and I have great respect for it. This is a very positive development for the world. I think we are going to have a deal.”
Except now CNN reports that aides admit that in spite of Trump’s insistence to the contrary, no such phone calls ever took place. Add to that the completely nonplussed Chinese reaction, and it all looks like a vaporous attempt to stop the markets wobbling at the prospect of an economic downturn caused by this trade war.
“Regarding the phone call in the weekend, I am not aware of that,” Geng Shuang of the Chinese Foreign Ministry said last week. “I can tell you clearly that I haven’t heard of such a thing.”
“We have had calls at the highest level, but I don’t want to talk about that,” Trump told reporters when he was pressed on the matter last week, invoking the standard presidential ‘I definitely have had trade talks, but they go to a different school in the next town over so you can’t meet them’ defence.
Meanwhile, state-run Xinhua was out with another “commentary” that strikes a defiant tone. “China has sufficient means to fight back and chooses to act in a way that is refrained and responsible to both the Chinese, the Americans and the world at large”, the piece reads. “Playing the old tricks of bullying and maximum pressure, the US administration has escalated the trade tensions repeatedly and tried to coerce China into accepting its irrational demands”.
Xinhua insists that “China did not and will not surrender”.