According to reports, just one week in advance of a scheduled meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, President Trump just signed two executive orders on trade. According to ABC News, the orders are intended to mitigate "trade abuses," a hot topic in recent years between the two nations.
The orders reportedly focus on generating a report from the Commerce Department on the causes of U.S. trade deficits, and preventing foreign countries from selling goods within the United States at such low prices as to make American goods non-competitive. The latter element is something that China's been criticized for heavily over the course of the last several years, as its surging manufacturing economy has allowed it to flood the American marketplace with relatively cheap goods.
Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump was repeatedly and extremely combative and tough-talking on the topic of China. Specifically, as a candidate he promised to label China a "currency manipulator" on day one of his presidency. He ultimately broke that promise, however, and the same basic idea was proposed by 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Trump also sparked tensions with the global superpower during the presidential transition, speaking with Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen in a phone call that breached the United States' longstanding "One China" policy.
This is far from the only trade-related issue Trump leveraged in his successful 2016 campaign. He also lambasted his opponent Hillary Clinton for her past support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (more commonly known as TPP), and the role of her husband, Bill Clinton, in signing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993. In fact, he promised both to withdraw the United States from the TPP, and to tear up and renegotiate NAFTA, which he's called the "worst trade deal."
Update - The White House says President Trump has now signed the two trade orders.— Andrew Beatty (@AndrewBeatty) March 31, 2017
The first of those promises he kept, and it's not hard to see why. It's extremely easy to refuse to enter an agreement. Changing the terms of a previously entered one, however, is a more complicated business, and so far it seems like Trump is shirking his NAFTA promise ― according to the New York Times, he's considering leaving significant aspects of it in place, ahead of a planned renegotiation later this year. In other words, while the TPP may be gone, it's still possible that one of the very same trade policies Trump condemned during the campaign will endure beyond whatever plans he has for NAFTA. And that can't be welcome news for any supporters who backed him on the strength of his protectionist trade policies.