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Donald J. Trump, who has made reversing America’s trade imbalance a pillar of his campaign, often portrays himself as uniquely capable of wringing concessions out of China through hard-nosed business tactics he has honed over the years.

In fact, he says, he has a personal track record to back up his boasts.

“I beat China all the time,” Mr. Trump declared in a speech the day he announced his candidacy. “I own a big chunk of the Bank of America building at 1290 Avenue of the Americas that I got from China in a war. Very valuable.”

Mr. Trump does have an investment in the building, an office tower near Rockefeller Center. But court documents and interviews with people involved in the deal tell a very different story of how he ended up with it.

It began when a group of Hong Kong billionaires, including one who has been called the Donald Trump of China, helped rescue Mr. Trump from the verge of bankruptcy by investing in one of his properties in Manhattan.

For years, the carefully cultivated relationship between Mr. Trump and his Hong Kong partners proved lucrative for both sides, and stands out as perhaps the closest that Mr. Trump has come to international diplomacy.

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