President Donald Trump was extremely thin on the ground with details as he pushed back the March 1 deadline to raise tariffs on Chinese goods. All we know is that it's going to be soon. And it's going to be huge.
"If all works well, we're going to have some very big news over the next week or two," he told the Governor's Ball, heralding an agreement both "very, very special" and "very exciting." The best ever, in fact. "If we can do the great economic deal, it would be the largest trade deal ever made, by far."
We know nothing about what it will contain. That did not matter to Chinese investors. Peace has broken out, as they say, in the short-lived trade war, which has ended with a lot of chest thumping and few shots fired.
Chinese stock markets were frenzied with activity in response. Trading on Monday was triple the normal volume, with 1.04 trillion yuan ($150 billion) in equities changing hands. That's the first time in four years it has topped the trillion-yuan mark.
The CSI 300 index of Chinese stocks shot up 5.95% on Monday, its strongest performance since September 2015. It is up 25.8% since a Jan. 3 low, breaching the 20% rally mark that's typically cited as the definition of a bull run.
China's stock markets are incredibly volatile. Domestic retail investors make up more than 75% of the free-float market cap in China's A shares, according to Mercer, citing Chinese data.
It is not unusual at all for them to fall by two-thirds one year, then rally by 100% the next. Sentiment has everything to do with these moves, fundamentals almost nothing.
I don't know how far this bull run will last. But the heavy trading on Monday demonstrates that Chinese investors believe it's a fait accompli that China and the United States will settle their trade spat with a trade deal. These stocks will surely run a lot further.
It is not at all clear what kind of trade deal the United States will reach with the Chinese, and beyond that it's a great question whether it will be enforceable. No one to date has been able, despite their best efforts, to strong arm Communist China into free-market mercantilism.
Trump tweeted that the United States has made "substantial progress in our trade talks with China on important structural issues including intellectual property protection, technology transfer, agriculture, services, currency, and many other issues."
Those mentioned are the key issues. China has been very slow to open up its industries to foreign companies, as it pledged to do when it entered the World Trade Organization. Even if it does meet obligations under the WTO or existing trade pacts, it is a past master at then changing the rules as it sees fit, typically to benefit domestic industry and shut out international competitors.
The United States was due on Friday to bump tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports -- up from their current, already raised 10%, to a punitive 25%. As I mentioned last week, it's very clear both the Chinese and Trump need a victory, and the tariff hike is never going to happen.
I say never, but all the reports from the talks suggest that the U.S. negotiators are attempting to write into the trade deal the ability to kick the tariffs into action should the Chinese not live up to their end of the bargain.
This is extremely wise. A few pledges to purchase $5 billion in soybeans, or the same in corn, or wheat, or beef will cheer farmers but mean little to most companies. It also seems likely the Chinese will ink an agreement to buy more U.S. energy products, and enable easier access for U.S. autos.
We need some progress on the overarching concerns about intellectual-property theft, the forced transfer of technology from foreign companies to their local partners, heavy subsidies China provides to state-owned enterprises, and the uneven playing field it deliberately creates.
Big-picture promises to let multinationals in have amounted to nothing since China does so on terms that make it impossible for them to compete. Its main aim appears to be to learn how multinationals act, then encourage Chinese companies to copy them.
Trump continues to see the economic relationship with China as either a race or a boxing bout. One wins, the other loses. While both win.
"As long as I'm President, they're not going to catch us," Trump said at the Governor's Ball. "They're going to do well. But I want them to do well, but they're not going to catch us."
Trump wants this deal to be his victory. So we'll have to wait for the next summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping for the agreement to be laid out, a meeting that now seems set for March and a round of golf at Trump's Palm Beach "winter White House," Mar-a-Lago.
Trump plays very nice with Xi, which goes down very well in China. He is in the strange position of both threatening Xi's nation on trade while begging for its help in diplomacy.
"That whole relationship has been outstanding," Trump says of his dealings with China. "We put ourselves into a position of strength for the first time in about 35 years, or probably a lot more than that. But China has been terrific."
Trump is also set on making a nuclear deal with North Korea part of his foreign-policy legacy. On that front, he very much needs Xi's help in working to mediate with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, as well as China's pressure to enforce sanctions against the hermit state.
"President Xi of China has been very helpful in his support of my meeting with Kim Jong Un," Trump tweeted. "The last thing China wants are large scale nuclear weapons right next door. Sanctions placed on the border by China and Russia have been very helpful. Great relationship with Chairman Kim!"
Next stop for Trump is Hanoi, of course, for a summit with Kim this week before his summit with Xi. That is also going to be huge, and soon.
"We have a special feeling, and I think it's going to lead to something very good, and maybe not," Trump says, in his vague, optimistic, threatening way. "I think ultimately it will, but maybe not."