Michael Pillsbury, the president’s top outside adviser on China, has the president’s ear ahead of negotiations with Xi Jinping.
WASHINGTON — Michael Pillsbury had just finished a rib-eye salad at the Cosmos Club on Tuesday when he received a text message from the White House: “The president is trying to reach you. Call back.”
A day later, Mr. Pillsbury huddled in the Oval Office with President Trump and senior members of the White House economic team ahead of a pivotal weekend meeting in Argentina between Mr. Trump and President Xi Jinping of China.
For more than an hour, Mr. Trump,Mr. Pillsbury and advisers including Steven Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross, Larry Kudlow, Jared Kushner and Peter Navarro, who joined remotely from California, strategized about negotiations with China that could determine the direction of a trade war that has gripped the world’s two largest economies, spooked global markets and shaken diplomatic relations between Beijing and Washington.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi are expected to dine on Saturday evening at the G-20 summit meeting in Buenos Aires, where they will talk about the possibility of a trade truce. The United States has imposed tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports, and the rate of some of the levies is set to increase to 25 percent in January, from 10 percent. Mr. Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on all Chinese imports — an additional $267 billion — if a compromise cannot be reached.
Mr. Trump has received conflicting advice from his trade team about how to approach China but it is Mr. Pillsbury’s counsel that the president is most likely to keep in mind.
He has emerged as a key sounding board for Mr. Trump, who has publicly referred to Mr. Pillsbury as “the leading authority on China” on multiple occasions. (Three times, by Mr. Pillsbury’s count, who said sales of his 2015 manifesto on China have soared as a result.)
Ubiquitous on Fox News in recent months, Mr. Pillsbury’s book “The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower” has become a lodestar for those in the West Wing pushing for a more forceful response to the threat that China’s rise poses to the United States.
“We could not have shifted the entire apparatus to this confrontational mode with China if it wasn’t for the intellectual architecture of ‘A Hundred-Year Marathon,’” said Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist who recruited Mr. Pillsbury as an adviser during the transition and used to hand out copies of his book around the White House.
The book, which was published while Mr. Pillsbury was advising the Obama administration as a Pentagon consultant, presents an apocryphal view of China as a clever enemy with a stealthy plan to overtake the United States as the dominant world power by 2049 — a century after the People’s Republic was founded.
At the time of its release, Mr. Pillsbury’s book was widely mocked as fringe and it drew criticism as subpar scholarship.

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