Ever since Donald Trump assumed office at White House, rumors have been spinning about a possible meeting between the Presidents of America and China even before Trump would be able to meet his favorite leader Russian president Putin.
US President Donald Trump wrote recently to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping after Xi sent a congratulatory note for the inauguration. According to the White House, Trump sent a letter to President Xi wishing him a prosperous Year of the Rooster and saying he looks forward to developing “a constructive relationship that benefits both the United States and China,” press secretary Sean Spicer said. The two leaders have yet to speak by phone.
For some time Beijing would only say that preparatory work for the meeting was underway – failing to initially confirm the trip, despite western media reports on the scheduled meeting and an announcement by the Finnish government that Xi would make a brief stop in Finland on April 5. There is a new twist in the program.
Nevertheless, we now know that China’s President Xi Jinping will meet with President Trump at Mar-a-Lago in Florida on April 6-7. It will be Xi’s first meeting with Trump, a little over a month after Trump used the same venue to meet with Japan’s PM Abe, and comes at a time when the two sides face pressing issues, ranging from North Korea and the South China Sea to trade disputes.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang, who made the announcement at a daily news briefing, did not give any more details of the meeting agenda, but spoke of the need to see the big picture while fostering mutual interests in trade relations. “The market dictates that interests between our two countries are structured so that you will always have me and I will always have you,” Lu said. “Both sides should work together to make the cake of mutual interest bigger and not simply seek fairer distribution,” he said in response to a question about trade frictions.
The summit follows a series of other recent U.S.-China meetings and conversations aimed at mending ties after strong criticism of China by Trump during his election campaign. Rex Tillerson ended a trip to Asia this month in Beijing, agreeing to work together with China on North Korea and stressing Trump’s desire to enhance understanding.
Foreign trade criticism
In expanding trade across the globe, including in Africa, the Chinese government plays a heavy hand in structuring its economy, moves that Trump and others have argued put US companies and manufacturers at a disadvantage against their Chinese counterparts. Trump’s attempts to change that reality come on top of years of attempts by previous administrations.
President Trump and his rhetorical crusade against Chinese foreign trade abuses is finally colliding with the reality of face-to-face negotiations. The real estate businessman is staring down his first major opportunity to make headway on his campaign pledge to level the terms of the US-China trade relationship as he meets for the first time with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday.
While Trump’s longstanding rhetoric on the trading relationship will hang over the meeting, the encounter also comes as Trump nears three months in office having done little to make good on his bold promise to fundamentally alter the trading relationship.
While Trump has focused the brunt of his rhetoric on simply reversing the United States’ $347 billion trade deficit with China, experts say an improved trading relationship will rest not on China simply changing that top-line number, but fundamentally altering the role it plays in its economy.
The series of meetings at Trump’s opulent south Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago, an opportunity to “set a framework for discussion” of the trading relationship and begin the process of urging China to change policies that have led to “an uneven playing field for US companies.” One official stressed that they did not view the meeting as an opportunity to “resolve any particular issue.”
Former US officials and experts on China and international trade said they were heartened to see that Trump had not made good on some of his boldest campaign pledges — like imposing double-digit tariffs on Chinese imports or labeling China a currency manipulator. experts also warned that Trump may be enticed by a Chinese public relations coup with little long-term value aimed at Trump’s eagerness for clear-cut “wins,” like a series of quick, pre-packaged Chinese announcements of investments in the US, or headline-worthy purchases of high-profile US products.
Rather than a willingness to make fundamental changes to their economies, experts said the Chinese were more likely to come bearing political enticements, like promises of investments in manufacturing plants.
Trump and his advisers have thus far signaled they will aim for more than just window dressing changes with the Chinese trade. The US would look to “reduce the systemic trade and investment barriers that they’ve created. Trump will now need to push Xi to reduce the Chinese government’s heavy-handed regulation of its economy to lower the barriers of access to its economy for US companies, said David Dollar, a China expert at the Brookings Institution.
Dollar and other experts said top targets for the US efforts to level the playing field will also include addressing China’s abuse of US intellectual property, high tariffs on certain goods and stricter labor standards that make Chinese manufacturer’s more competitive.
Most economists and China experts have argued that Trump’s move to withdraw the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement will only serve to embolden China.
The trade deal, spearheaded by the Obama government, would have represented a clear statement of US influence in a region China has sought to dominate and would have raised labor and environmental standards in the region — putting Chinese manufacturers on a more level playing field should China choose to join the agreement, as it was likely to do.
Amid Trump’s tough talk on curbing Chinese trade abuses and reversing the US’ trade deficit with China in favor of boosting US manufacturing, Trump has yet to telegraph what he is prepared to offer China in return.
Trump had previously been criticized by some Chinese commentators for not recording a Lunar New Year message, although his daughter and granddaughter did attend a celebration at the Chinese embassy in Washington.
Since his election, Trump has challenged Beijing over a range of issues — slamming its military build-up in the South China Sea, its currency and trade policies and, perhaps most controversially, upending decades of diplomatic protocol by questioning a longstanding US policy towards Taiwan. “We highly commend President Trump for expressing festival greetings to President Xi Jinping and the Chinese people,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang said.
America keeps pressuring Beijing on North Korean efforts for nukes that threaten neighboring South Korea, a loyal ally of NATO and USA, and Among the most pressing recent issues, China has been irritated at being repeatedly told by Washington to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and by the US decision to base an advanced missile defense system in South Korea. Beijing also remains suspicious of US intentions towards self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its own.
Ahead of the first meeting between US President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, North Korea fired a ballistic missile off the coast of the Korean Peninsula. The missile — which fell into the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea, on Wednesday morning — is one of several the country has test-fired in recent months.
Even before the missile test, North Korea’s nuclear program was expected to be an important talking point between Xi and Trump. The USA has been pushing China to put pressure on North Korea to stop its nuclear program and missile testing, but Trump said on Sunday the United States would be prepared to act alone to stop North Korea. The test elicited a terse response from the US State Department, unlike the standard diplomatic condemnations that usually follow Pyongyang’s missile tests.
The primary concern surrounding North Korea’s weapons program is that Pyongyang could eventually equip long-range missiles with a nuclear warhead. North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests — including two last year — but experts said the country still hasn’t developed nuclear warheads that can be mounted onto missiles.
Both US and South Korean officials said the projectile was a KN-15 medium-range ballistic missile from a site in the vicinity of Sinpo, South Hamgyong province, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said. It flew a distance of around 60 kilometers (37 miles) and flew as high as 189 kilometers (117 miles), South Korean officials said. The North Koreans use Sinpo shipyard for their submarine activity, and US satellites have observed increased activity there in recent days. Solid fuel is like an explosive jelly, less corrosive than liquid fuel, and it can be more easily stored in the rocket’s fuel tank than the liquid alternative, which requires specially lined tanks.
Of course, trade will be a dominant topic. Trump has repeatedly accused China of unfair trade policies, criticized its island-building in the strategic South China Sea, and accused it of doing too little to constrain North Korea, although with the “Goldman” block silencing Peter Navarro in recent months, Trump has significantly moderated his tone.
With an uptick in tests, North Korea may have significantly advanced its missile technology and increased the size of its arsenal. USA cannot do anything now, nor would it be able use China to end or threaten Chinese efforts.
Kremlin and Great Wall
Relations between Russia and China have improved considerably in the wake of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and the international sanctions that followed. In 2014, the two countries signed a landmark $400 billion gas deal, as well as numerous other trade and energy agreements.
In September last year, Chinese and Russian naval forces conducted joint exercises in the South China Sea, where China’s aggressive territorial claims have hurt relations with regional neighbors. Beijing, a major global investor, has invested $40 billion in a Silk Road Fund to back OBOR, and it was the primary reason for the establishment of the $50 billion China-backed AIIB development bank.
Though some critics have suggested the plan could harm Sino-Russian ties, as it expands Beijing’s influence well into Moscow’s backyard, a 2015 report by 16 Russian academics said OBOR could complement Russia’s own Eurasian Economic Union, and improve ties between the two countries. “Driven by strengthening personal ties between Putin and Xi, the breadth and depth of China-Russia relations have spilled over into multiple spheres of governmental and institutional policymaking,” according to Bob Savic, a senior research fellow at London Metropolitan University’s Global Policy Institute.
Meanwhile, setting the stage for a just as critical summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that he was ready to meet US president Trump at an Arctic summit in Finland. The Russian president made this remark responding to his Finnish counterpart, who said he would be happy to receive Russian and US presidents in Finland. “I believe Finland suits this purpose well, and Helsinki is a very convenient platform to organize an event like this,” Putin said, when asked if he thought a meeting between him and Trump was possible in Finland. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said earlier that his country would “certainly be very happy to have the opportunity to hold such a summit.”
A meeting with Trump could any case take place in the framework of the G20 summit set to take place in July, according to Putin. The summit is set to take place at Finlandia Hall in Helsinki on September 18-20, 2017, according to the event’s official website.
As Trump reached out to Beijing, it was confirmed that Russian President Vladimir Putin would meet with Xi in May on the sidelines of a major economic summit, according to Russian state media.
Global media are focused on the meeting between Trump and Xi as a major event of intentional importance.
Clearly, President Trump appears to favor Russia over China: he made a point of criticizing Chinese economic policy during the campaign and has also questioned US policy orthodoxy on the matter of Taiwan.
Conversely, Xi has emerged as an unlikely champion of globalization (though his rhetoric abroad often contradicts actions at home) and a potential new leader on tackling climate change.
So it is unclear whether Trump, who made criticism of expansive trade deals a key part of his platform and personally withdrew the US from President Barack Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership, would choose to attend the OBOR conference even if he was invited. It is also unclear whether Trump will join the pair at the “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) forum — Xi’s landmark scheme to pump billions of dollars into infrastructure and other projects across Asia, Africa and Europe.
However, many in China wanted a meeting between Trump and Xi as soon as possible, with some suggestion that Trump could be invited to the May multilateral meeting.