What does US President Donald Trump want of other countries? It’s never too clear. “I like our companies selling things to other people," he said in Osaka, Japan, after this year’s G20 Summit, after he allowed American companies to resume business with Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant that he had earlier blacklisted on accusations of espionage. He even wanted India to ban it. If Trump’s about-turn is no surprise, it’s because shifts in his approach rarely are. On China, US trade negotiations had collapsed not long ago. Now Trump is ready to talk again, with the threat of slapping a 25% tariff on some $300 billion worth of imports from the People’s Republic kept aside—for the moment.

A blow-hot-blow-cold pattern marks almost all of Trump’s relations with countries the US is at odds with. His talks with North Korea have bounced in every direction possible, and nobody knows if a deal is on its way to being struck or coming apart. Many wonder if this is a tactic, one that aims to exhaust the other side into signing on. Of course, two could play this game of flux, especially if it seems old deals are being torn up only for replacements to bear a new signature. Iran, it would appear, has been taking notes.

The trouble is not just Trump’s brazen disregard for international rules and past agreements, it is also the volatility that markets are made to suffer by all the frequent shifting of America’s stance. Financial markets around the world have been roiled on several occasions by a statement from Trump, only to find their assumptions outdated shortly afterwards. Consistency may be for the artless, to his mind, but when agreements that affect the world need to be made, it holds value. America has long held principles aloft as the basis of all it does, and those are not meant to vary.

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