So how will the impeachment crisis impact the trade war against China and what is arguably the most geopolitically consequential item on the president’s policy plate? There’s plenty of debate to be had on that question as well. And three things to keep in mind:
The Chinese were frustrated with the difficulties and unpredictability of dealing with Trump long before impeachment was a potential reality. People who have met with Liu He, the vice premier leading the negotiations in Washington again in the next few days, say he has not hidden his diminished expectations in recent weeks. The impeachment case adds just another layer of unpredictability. Especially when Trump wants China to investigate the Bidens as much as he wants a deal. That is not welcome in Beijing. Trump’s actual negotiators are doing their best to ignore the growing mess in Washington. Robert Lighthizer, his trade czar, is a veteran of beltway politics. Rebalancing the relationship with China is something he has wanted to tackle for 30 years. And, people close to him say, he remains focused on what he can control and securing a worthy deal with China. In some ways impeachment may only embolden the Trump camp in dealing with China. The reality is things were not going well in the talks before any of this started. Since they broke down in May, leading to a summer of tariff acceleration, stop-start negotiations have been focused more on how to resume discussions and avoid escalation than substance. As my colleague Jenny Leonard and I reported on Sunday, the Chinese have been telling American visitors to Beijing that they are now not prepared to address government subsidies at the heart of the economic model that has led to China’s industrial rise over the past three decades. Which is a bit like a groom showing up for a wedding without a ring as far as some in the Trump administration are concerned. And which means impeachment may matter less than what either side is prepared to put on the table.