Deal or no deal, the U.S.-China relationship is beyond repair

Trump will doubtless win some concessions from Xi, perhaps expanded access for U.S. companies to the Chinese marketplace, agreements on currency management, more Chinese purchases of American soybeans and promises in principle to address other U.S. demands.

What Trump cannot do is persuade Xi to overhaul China’s broader economic model. The Chinese state will continue to subsidize state-owned companies and privately owned national champions, tilting the global playing field in its favor. It will push forward, by any means necessary, on expanding technological innovation to compete with U.S. and European firms in the most important economic sectors of the 21st century–AI, fintech and consumer electronics, for example. On these subjects, whatever Xi promises Trump or Chinese officials say publicly, they will not compromise.

There are also limits to what Trump can offer to get that deal with Xi. If he signs off on an agreement that removes pressure on Chinese telecom giants Huawei and ZTE, each suspected of undermining U.S. national security, he’ll get pushback from Congress. If he tries to use Meng Wanzhou–the Huawei executive arrested in Canada for allegedly violating U.S. sanctions on Iran–as a bargaining chip, he’ll face criticism that he’s meddling in a law-enforcement matter and exceeding his authority.