President Trump’s 12-day Asian tour landed him in Beijing this week, where he discussed trade and North Korea with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Trump has long sought to minimize the trade imbalance between the US and China. During his presidential campaign, Trump accused Beijing of "raping" the US and threatened to label China a “currency manipulator.”
That vitriol has since been replaced with flattery and negotiation.
Trump called Xi a “very special man” and said he blames previous administrations – rather than China – for the “very unfair and one-sided” economic relationship between the two countries. “After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for benefit of their citizens? I give China credit.”
According to reports, the trade deficit between the two countries rose to over $223 billion during the first 10 months of the year.
Trump's China visit is being closely watched for signs of how Trump and Xi, leaders of the world’s two biggest economies, will be able to cooperate on a wide range of issues. The Trump Administration is hoping to win concessions from China, but Xi is in a very strong position after having consolidated power at a Communist Party congress last month.
The summit culminated with both countries announcing business deals valued at more than $250 billion, including a preliminary agreement to build a natural gas pipeline in Alaska.
“We want a vibrant trade relationship with China,” said Trump after he emerged from hours of meetings with Xi. “We also want a fair and reciprocal one. Today, I discussed with President Xi the chronic imbalance in our relationship as it pertains to trade and the concrete steps it will take to solve the problem of massive trade distortion.”
One of those “concrete steps” will be for Xi and Trump to establish a personal rapport – something both leaders seemed ready and willing to do.
As expected, Xi’s remarks were a bit more formal than Trump’s. The Chinese leader says that some friction between the US and China is unavoidable, but that the countries should work to improve communitcations and cooperation on Asia-Pacific issues.
Xi said China was committed to working with the US on international issues including North Korea and Afghanistan, and that Sino-US relations were at a “new historic starting point.” This is the sort of language Beijing has often employed in its efforts to get the US to agree to allow the country to operate in its “sphere of influence” without US meddling.
Trump reiterated his harsh criticism of North Korea during a joint statement with Xi, saying the two countries discussed a shared goal of pursuing the “complete denuclearization” of the peninsula. “China can fix this problem easily and quickly,” insisted Trump. “You know one thing about your president: If he works on it hard, it will happen. There’s no doubt about it.”
Following the 2-day summit, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the White House was “quite pleased” that there was “no disagreement” on the North Korea. He called the trade deals “small in the grand scheme of things” and said “we have a lot more work to do.”