Macron and May are not the only ones who have faltered in courting Trump. While flying home from Europe on Friday, the president—locked in a trade dispute with Beijing—heaped more criticism on Chinese trade practices. “China is subsidizing its product in order that it can continue to be sold in the USA,” he tweeted from Air Force One. (The Chinese “are realistic enough to know that by [ingratiating themselves with Trump] you don’t necessarily get tangible benefits,” Ming Wan, a professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, told me.)
Apart from flattery, foreign leaders have also focused on another imperative: avoiding provocations that might trigger Trump’s outrage. Before a G7 summit of developed nations in Italy in 2017, administration aides briefed some foreign officials on how best to confront Trump about climate change. By that point, he had announced that he would pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement, and had long been dismissive of the threat. In the briefing, the Trump team advised officials not to contradict or lecture the president, saying the best way to make their case was instead to talk about the potential impact on jobs, recalls Gérard Araud, the former French ambassador to the United States.