Donald Trump has seldom been seen so meekly. After a 18-month trade war with China now agreed "Phase 1" of an agreement to be fixed in writing is a good thing, was on Friday, the same US President, a few weeks ago, the very large and "complete" deal the only possible Solution had explained.
But for once Trump seems to have landed on the ground. He needed success, and because he could not get a big one, he took a small one: an oral agreement with Chinese chief negotiator Liu He, which is in fact nothing more than a ceasefire.
Jacquelyn Martin / AP
Chinese chief negotiator Liu He: Trump negotiates from a weak position
Trump renounces the next round of punitive tariffs, the Chinese promise to finally buy soybeans and pork from the battered American farmers. Just how much Beijing's other letter of intentions is about a stronger market opening will be shown in detail over the coming weeks. Once before in the spring, a supposedly signature-ready deal had burst in the last minute.
For a long time, Trump had fought on the safe side in wrestling with the Asian emerging power. The Chinese needed a trade deal much more urgently than the booming economy of America, the self-proclaimed dealmaker pointed out. Say: The stronger one wins. But the balance of power has shifted in the last few weeks.
Meanwhile, he no longer negotiates from a position of strength, but is himself the weak one. Trump is under pressure in domestic politics - how much he feels about it himself, was evident in his vulgar failures against the Democrats at two election campaign rallies in Minnesota and Louisiana this week. Trump foams, he cocks, he distracts. Because every day new details on the Ukraine affair are known, which do not shed a good light on the president. Even in the Republican base, the number of those who support the initiation of impeachment proceedings is growing.
Trump knows: he needs the voters from the battered states
All this will not be enough to trigger a mass reversal of his followers - at least not as long as the US economy is running smoothly.
But even Trump has not escaped that the economic alarm signs increase. Many companies have put investments on hold because of the trade wars, the manufacturing industry is already in recession, according to many experts. And among the peasants in the Midwest who are driving their harvesters into the fields these days, the existential fear is rampant. But without Swingstates like Ohio or Wisconsin, Trump will not win the 2020 election.
The fact that he waives the announced increase in tariffs against China for the time being, also happens in self-interest. The import taxes could scare off the appetite for shopping for the American consumer who supports the economy.
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First destroy everything - and then celebrate yourself for the reconstruction
Many Americans are sympathetic to Trump's campaign against China. And indeed, the young economic power is anything but a model partner. But Trump has made trade policy the hostage of his election tactics. His choreography means two steps back, one step ahead. First, he tears into what exists, then he cheers for having repaired the damage caused by himself.
The "Phase 1" agreement with China is a purely tactical maneuver. And so it could well be that Trump takes the chance to take on the Europeans instead of the Chinese. By mid-November, he has to decide whether to impose punitive tariffs on car imports. If the pact with Beijing holds, he could feel strong enough for it.
He will personally sign the deal with China at a meeting with his counterpart Xi Jinping at the April APEC summit in Chile, Trump announced on Friday. At the latest then it should act in its usual rhetoric again to the largest trade agreement in history.