Donald Trump's approach to foreign relations has never been subtle. But the president's recent declarations about leveling the trade playing field with China, premised on market competition, are more political than economic, the chief executive of Barings said Tuesday.
"It's definitely about voters now and that's where you get the rhetoric," Tom Finke, CEO and chairman of the North Carolina-based $304 billion asset management firm, told CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe."
"If you think about the industrial revolution when Teddy Roosevelt was president, his mantra was 'speak softly and carry a big stick.' I think Trump's mantra is 'speak loudly and wave your stick around.'"
Finke was referring to ongoing U.S.-China negotiations that are taking place this month to ease trade tensions after a tit-for-tat dispute saw both countries threaten tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of each other's imports. Trump has long criticized the gaping trade deficit between the U.S. and China, and has zeroed-in on shrinking that gap as the core focus of a broader call for Beijing to reform its international trade practices.
Triumphant tones came from the White House over the weekend, as Chinese trade officials conceded they would work toward increasing purchases of American goods, particularly in the agriculture and energy sectors.
But economists have criticized the announcements, saying they do not amount to concrete measures and that the trade deficit is not nearly as consequential as contentious points like technology security and intellectual property (IP) protection.