When this China critic speaks, it pays to listen

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WASHINGTON (June 18): To fully grasp President Donald Trump’s China strategy, the first step is understanding Robert Lighthizer. No one besides Trump himself has more ownership of the U.S.’s tariff policy toward Beijing than his chief trade negotiator.

Here’s the rub, though. The longtime attorney and China hawk is arguably the most enigmatic and camera-shy member of Trump’s cabinet. Which is why his congressional testimony this week is important and timely. When he speaks, it pays to listen. Here are some insights into his thinking:

People close to Lighthizer, 71, say he considers the current battle the capstone of his career. 

“For years, our economic position vis­-a-­vis China has deteriorated, because U.S. policy makers have refused to take the inevitable risks associated with challenging Chinese mercantilism,” he wrote in 2010. “Wringing our hands and hoping for the best is not the answer.”

He shows flashes of optimism. “You have to start with the proposition that there are people in China who believe that reform is a good idea. And you have to believe that those people are at a very senior level,” he told National Public Radio in March, when the two sides were still inching toward a deal.

But he’s no Pollyanna. “I don’t believe that this is going to solve all the problems between the United States and China,” he told the House Ways and Means Committee in February. “If they’re in a process of reform, we’ll make headway. If they’re not, we’re going to go right back to having problems.”

Despite his low-key public profile, he isn’t bashful. “It’s not a miniature,” his brother, Jim Lighthizer, said last year of the large portrait of himself that the trade representative has displayed in his home. “You couldn’t fit it in a locket, I’ll tell you that.”

Export Drop

Euro-area exports dropped in April, according to seasonally-adjusted figures Tuesday from Eurostat, a hint of how the global slowdown is hitting the region. Still, it’s just one month in a volatile series and demand is still up more than 4% so far this year, non-adjusted figures show.