John Bolton says Donald Trump might have reversed course on China trade with right moves by Xi Jinping

Robert Delaney
·3-min read

Former American national security adviser John Bolton disputed assertions that President-elect Joe Biden’s administration will be easier on China than President Donald Trump, saying that the outgoing US leader “could have done a 180” if Chinese President Xi Jinping offered any concessions on trade.

Bolton, who claimed in his book The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir that Trump sought Xi’s help to win the 2020 election by asking him to increase agricultural imports, said on Tuesday that the president would have changed his tone had he won a second term and received positive trade signals from Xi.

Bolton said “the default position” was that the incoming administration will take a similar approach to China as Barack Obama’s, when Biden served as vice-president. “But I think the same thing could have happened had there been a second Trump term if Xi Jinping called him and said, ‘hey, congratulations on the election. Let’s talk about trade’,” Bolton said in an online discussion with Foreign Press Association director Ian Williams. “Trump could have done a 180 very easily.”

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Bolton, who has become a Trump critic since he left the administration in 2019, said the president resisted taking action against China for its hard-line stance on opposition activists in Hong Kong and evidence of human rights abuses in the country’s far-west region of Xinjiang until the coronavirus pandemic began to spread in the US.

“He told us to back away from imposing sanctions on China … because of their persecution of the Uygurs,” Bolton said. “He didn’t want to talk about the gross violation of the handover agreement between China and Great Britain with the suppression with the ‘one country, two systems’ substantial degree of autonomy model for Hong Kong, and he persisted in that right up until 2020 when the coronavirus endemic took hold.”

Trump “could tell from public opinion surveys in the United States and all across western Europe and most of the rest of world [that] public opinion on China was turning very negative, so then Trump became negative on China himself,” he added. “This is just absolute classic Trump behaviour because it reflected him pursuing public opinion.”

Bolton book reveals ‘Xi’s personal appeals to Trump’ on Huawei, ZTE

The White House did not respond to a query about Bolton’s comments.

Trump has previously dismissed Bolton’s book, which was published in June, as a “compilation of lies and made-up stories”.

In a tweet now unavailable since Twitter deactivated Trump’s account, the president said: “Wacko John Bolton’s ‘exceedingly tedious’ (New York Times) book is made up of lies & fake stories. [Bolton] said all good about me, in print, until the day I fired him. … What a dope!”

Bolton has disputed Trump’s assertion that he was fired, saying he resigned of his own accord.

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