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Building Xi-Trump Rapport
Meeting of Chinese and U.S. presidents results in show of unity despite differences
By Yu Lintao | NO. 46 NOVEMBER 16, 2017

Chinese President Xi Jinping (2nd R) and his wife Peng Liyuan (1st R) together with U.S. President Donald Trump (2nd L) and his wife Melania Trump pose for group photos at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on November 9 (XINHUA)
On his first state visit to China, U.S. President Donald Trump received a royal welcome, literally.

He was hosted at Beijing's spectacular Forbidden City, the bastion from where dynasties of Chinese emperors ruled for almost 600 years, and offered tea in the complex's Hall of Embodied Treasures. An official photograph of the visit showing the former reality show star surrounded by a phalanx of Peking Opera performers in glittering, exotic costumes at the Belvedere of Pleasant Sounds, the palace's theater once meant only for the royal family and their entourage, was the ultimate memento.

State visit-plus

If the Mar-a-Lago meeting in April, when Trump hosted visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping at his personal beach resort, saw the breaking of the ice between the two governments after Trump's earlier anti-Chinese election rhetoric, then the diplomatic tête-à-tête at the Forbidden City, also known as the Palace Museum, was perhaps an overwhelming avalanche. Trump shared his reaction via Twitter, the quickest barometer of his pulse, with the watching world:

"THANK YOU for an unforgettable afternoon and evening at the Forbidden City in Beijing," he said.

Prior to the visit, Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai revealed that Trump's China trip would be a state visit-plus. During the visit, all the arrangements were highlighted by treating the U.S. guests a dose of Chinese culture before and in between the serious stuff including a guard of honor and state banquet.

However, this is not entertainment alone, but serves a deeper purpose. The first-hand taste of Chinese history and culture may guide the U.S. president to a better understanding of China. As William Jones, Executive Intelligence Review magazine's Washington bureau chief, told Xinhua News Agency, "While social and cultural dialogue often doesn't get as much attention as economic or security dialogues do, it may prove to be the most important dialogue of all in the long run."

"The history of our countries, particularly during the period of the Cold War, has served to proliferate a rather skewed view of each other as 'enemies'," he went on to add. "Much has to be done therefore to create a greater understanding of each other and of each other's history and culture. Without that, it will be difficult to understand actions and intentions on both sides."

While one visit is not likely to resolve all the existing problems between the two countries, China's special and well-thought-out arrangements for the Trumps do however indicate the sincerity of the Chinese hosts to deepen bilateral mutual trust and smooth the way for the development of bilateral relations.

The cultural diplomacy has already given birth to a warm personal relationship. During his Japan visit, which kicked off the Asian tour, Trump hailed his friendship with President Xi as saying his relationship with Xi is excellent and they consider each other as friends though they keep different views on some issues, which indicates the U.S. leader is now willing to accept that there are other divergent viewpoints.

The China visit has seen Trump, isolated in the West and facing a difficult situation in his own country following both the probe by former FBI director Robert Mueller into allegations of Russian interference in the presidential elections and the recent election losses for his party, now banking on his personal relationship with Xi.

During their talks in Beijing, the two presidents agreed on maintaining the strategic leading role of head-of-state diplomacy in developing bilateral relations.

Xi noted that the Sino-U.S. relations are "at a new historic starting point" and China is willing to work together with the United States to respect each other, seek mutual benefit and reciprocity, focus on cooperation, and manage and control differences.

Trump also pledged to maintain close communication with Xi and promote the development of bilateral ties and cooperation on international affairs

Frequent interaction between the two presidents helps establish their personal friendship, and the Beijing trip adds to that.

On the Trumps' side, there has also been a cultural overture. During the Beijing trip, the president played with grandparental pride a video clip showing his 6-year-old granddaughter, Arabella Kushner, reciting ancient Chinese poetry and singing Chinese songs. The fact that his young grandchildren are learning Chinese is an irrefutable indication of the U.S. first family's awareness of the importance of China in today's world and the necessity of finding ways to better communication.

International media also commented on the Arabella phenomenon. "President Donald Trump's granddaughter, Arabella Kushner, has once again played a bridging role in U.S.-China diplomacy," Associated Press said. "Trump granddaughter aids U.S.-China diplomacy," U.S. radio station KURV said.

There has been a steady effort since Trump came to power to promote bilateral mutual trust. During the Mar-a-Lago meetings, the two presidents agreed to establish four high-level dialogue mechanisms: on diplomatic and security issues, the economy, social and people-to-people exchanges, and law enforcement and cybersecurity. Each mechanism has already held its first meeting. In the first round of the law enforcement and cybersecurity dialogue, held in Washington, D. C. in October, the two sides reached broad consensus on counterterrorism, counter-narcotics, cybersecurity and immigration issues.

Ahead of the dialogue, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson emphasized the need for a strong, constructive relationship between China and the United States "now more than ever." He said the relationship was "important for the prosperity and stability of our two countries as well as the world" in a press statement issued by the U.S. Department of State on China's National Day, October 1.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) holds a grand ceremony to welcome U.S. President Donald Trump outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on November 9 (XINHUA)

Fruits achieved

Before Trump's three-day China visit started on November 8, there was speculation that the agenda would include trade talks with the Chinese side, especially in view of the perceived imbalance in Sino-U.S. trade, and discussions on the Korean Peninsula issue, especially after Trump antagonized the leadership of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) with his address at the United Nations General Assembly.

The U.S. president did not disappoint on the first score. However, though he complained the China-U.S. bilateral trade was not very fair to the United States, the tone was mild. He was reported as saying that he didn't blame China for the deficit but the imcompetence of the past U.S. administrations.

However, the perspective of Sino-U.S. trade being "so far out of kilter" is not an accurate representation. In July, Chinese Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao explained after the first China-U.S. Comprehensive Economic Dialogue in Washington, D.C. that China is not intentionally pursuing a trade surplus. As a matter of fact, China, while enjoying a surplus in the trade of goods, suffers from a deficit in the trade of services. Also, the surplus in goods trade unfairly includes products made in China by U.S. companies, which are regarded as Chinese goods because they are made in China.

If calculated through the value-added approach, instead of by the existing rules of origin in trade, the U.S. trade deficit with China would be only half of its current volume, the U.S.-China Business Council said in a report in January. It also said China-U.S. trade relations have supported roughly 2.6 million jobs in the United States.

U.S. export barriers against China are also believed to be one of the major causes for the small scale of U.S. exports. As China steps up its industrial modernization, there is huge market potential for U.S. exports of advanced technologies, key equipment and critical parts.

According to an op-ed by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace last April, if the United States liberalized its export barriers against China, as it has against Brazil and France, the U.S. trade deficit with China would shrink substantially.

Heeding these arguments, the China-U.S. Comprehensive Economic Dialogue agreed to address the trade imbalance by increasing U.S. exports to China instead of reducing imports from China. This was also the crux of the 100-day action plan agreed upon by the two presidents at Mar-a-Lago.

The first fruit of this new understanding came in June, when beef shipments began arriving in China from the United States after a 13-year ban following the outbreak of mad cow disease in the U.S. The U.S. will also export liquefied natural gas to China, which, following the shale gas boom in the U.S. and China's quest for green fuel to reduce its environmental pollution, will be a win-win deal.

More beneficial trade will flow, as Trump's visit witnessed Chinese and U.S. companies signing trade and investment agreements worth over $250 billion, including China buying U.S. beef, soybeans and pork as well as mobile phone chipsets from Qualcomm, vehicles and parts from General Motors and Ford Motor, and jetliners from Boeing. Xi also said China is ready to look at other energy and agricultural products from the U.S.

The outcome of the other items on the agenda will not be so promptly discernible. But the absence of increased anti-DPRK rhetoric is another sign of Trump's mellowing in Beijing. Though he said all responsible nations must join together to stop arming, financing and even trading with Pyongyang, his approach generally changed into considerable dependence on the Chinese role.

The two presidents agreed on the need to implement all United Nations Security Council resolutions on North Korea, which means the U.S. will continue to tread the diplomatic path following the consultations in China and the war rhetoric has been suspended, at least for now.

Xi said, "On the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, we have reiterated firm commitment to achieving denuclearization on the peninsula and maintaining the international nuclear non-proliferation regime."

He added that China and the U.S. are also willing to work with various parties concerned to explore ways of realizing lasting peace and order in Northeast Asia and will continue to maintain communication and cooperation on the issue.

With China's growing role in world affairs, the agenda not surprisingly dealt with other pressing issues as well, like Afghanistan, radical Islamic terrorism and also drug trafficking. While the details of the agreements—and perhaps a few disagreements—will emerge much later, for now, what has been seen is the two leaders of the two biggest economies in the world speaking with one voice, presenting a united front despite their differences.

Outcome List of Trump's China Trip

The deals signed:

China's biggest online retailer, JD.com, agreeing to buy $1.2 billion worth of U.S. beef and pork

China's purchase of Boeing jetliners costing $37 billion

Mobile phone chipsets from Qualcomm priced at $12 billion

Vehicles and parts from General Motors and Ford for $11.7 billion

Cooperation on a $43-billion gas project in Alaska and a shale gas demonstration project

Major consensus reached:

Have broad common interests and important responsibility for protecting world peace, stability and prosperity

Display the strategic and leading role of head-of-state diplomacy in developing bilateral relations

Continue close contact through telephone conversations, letters, meetings and exchange views on major issues of common concern in a timely manner

Give full play to the four high-level dialogue platforms: the diplomatic and security dialogue, the comprehensive economic dialogue, the law enforcement and cybersecurity dialogue, and the social and people-to-people dialogue

Enhance macro-policy coordination concerning fiscal, monetary and exchange rate policy; keep communication and coordination on domestic structural reform and global economic governance

Step up communication on increasing imports from the United States and review policy of foreign investment involving national security concerns

Substantially ease market access to China's financial markets such as banking, securities and funds, and insurance industries, in accordance with China's timetable and roadmap

Reduce tariffs on automobiles gradually and properly by the Chinese side

Reinforce exchanges and dialogues at various levels between the two militaries

Strengthen cooperation in combating cybercrime and protecting the Internet

Prevent each other from becoming a paradise for fugitives

Make positive achievements in repatriating illegal immigrants

Enhance law enforcement cooperation on drug control and the spread of new psychoactive substances

Strengthen protection of people and agencies in the other country

Stick to the one-China policy

Enroll more students from each other

Welcome the extension of China-U.S. Agreement on Cooperation in Science and Technology

Cooperate on the prevention and treatment of AIDS, emerging and reemerging infectious diseases

Dedicate to promoting peace, stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region

Safeguard international nuclear non-proliferation regime; promote complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula; not to accept the nuclear status of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea

Expand cooperation on fighting terrorism on a two-way and mutually beneficial basis

Offer assistance to Iraq

Stand by the "Afghan-owned and Afghan-led" way to realize the peaceful reconstruction of Afghanistan

Cooperate in nuclear safety, crack down on nuclear smuggling, and fight nuclear terrorism

(Source: Xinhua News Agency)

Copyedited by Chris Surtees 

Comments to yulintao@bjreview.com 

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