Ever since President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping shared a slice of chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago in April, many have speculated about the burgeoning “bromance” between two of the world’s most powerful men.
Well, if anybody had any doubts about thelr “special relationship”, the opulent welcome that the Trump’s received upon landing in Beijing should put them to rest.
A red carpet, military band and flag-waving children met Trump and first lady Melania Trump when they arrived in Beijing. That greeting – which included far more pageantry than is typically bestowed on visiting foreign leaders – was followed by a tour of China’s Forbidden City accompanied by Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan. Following that, they took in an opera performance. Trump also reportedly showed Xi video clips of his grandchildren singing in Chinese. Indeed, a video of Ivanka Trump's daughter Arabella reciting a Chinese poem went viral on Chinese social media shortly after Trump’s election last year.
The Chinese have promised that Trump would receive what they call a “state visit plus” – with the Trump’s being accorded courtesies that are rarely bestowed on foreign leaders.
“That’s something!” Trump said after the show, as he and Xi walked away. “We’re having a great time.”
As Reuters points out, while the sprawling palace complex in the center of Beijing – where Chinese emperors ruled for more than 500 years - is a regular stop for visiting dignitaries, it is rare for a Chinese leader to provide a personal escort, confirmation of the “state visit-plus” treatment that China had promised for Trump.
In another unusual step, Trump’s official ceremonial welcome at the Great Hall of the People on Thursday will be broadcast live on national television, state broadcaster CCTV said.
The state visit, which will meld intimate sit-downs with Xi alongside state dinners and gala events joined by 40 US business leaders, is China’s answer to his hosting Xi at Mar a Lago earlier this year. The main event is on Thursday, when Trump and Xi are scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting and make joint statements to reporters. Trump is also expected to deliver a speech to Communist Party officials.
While the flattery will presumably go a long way toward appeasing Trump, administration officials reminded US media that the president has two difficult policy objectives that he hopes to accomplish before moving on to the next stop in his five-nation, 12-day tour of the continent.
Those issues include coaxing China to more strictly enforce the UN Security council sanctions that were imposed on the North in August and September, following provocative missile and nuclear tests by the Kim regime. As Bloomberg points out, the stop is by far the most important part of Trump’s trip, given that he believes China is central to reining in North Korea. And Trump’s personal brand of diplomacy – which is heavily reliant on interpersonal relationships - will be tested by his ability to come away with Chinese promises to halt what he sees as predatory trade practices.
In remarks to reporters on Air Force One on Sunday, Trump rejected assertions he was entering the summit in a weakened state. He cited a soaring stock market, low unemployment, a strengthened military and gains against Islamic State in the Middle East.
From this position of strength, Trump hopes to convince Xi that China must do more to rein in its restive neighbor, according to Bloomberg:
As for China, a senior State Department official who asked not to be identified discussing the administration’s strategy, said the goal was to persuade leaders to enforce United Nations Security Council resolutions against Pyongyang on a granular level, out in the provinces, where small companies do business with North Korea.
The U.S. has long argued that China holds the key to choking off the regime’s economy. This time the U.S. will ask that China take more concrete steps - such as strict customs enforcement - to ensure curbs on trade are properly enforced, the official said. Without China doing more, the official added, “we’re not going to get to a peaceful solution to this problem.”
China’s view is it has already done a lot to put the economic screws on Kim, and it is reluctant to push to the point it risks a messy regime collapse on its border - with the prospect that could bring U.S. troops even closer to its soil.
Trump and Xi are both seeking concessions on trade as well, with Trump hoping to push China to agree to help reduce the yawning trade deficit between the US and China, while Xi hopes to convince Trump to drop an intellectual property investigation launched by the Department of Commerce that could curtail high-tech US exports to the world’s second-largest economy.
To help accomplish this, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and 40 US business leaders will accompany Trump to try and strike a handful of mutually beneficial business deals. This after Xi told a group of US business leaders last week that China’s economy would continue opening up to foreign investment.
Companies seeking deals in sectors ranging from energy to aviation to financial services. One of the biggest under negotiation would see China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. invest billions of dollars to create thousands of jobs in hurricane-hit areas of Texas and the US Virgin Islands.
On Wednesday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced deals worth about $9 billion involving companies like General Electric Co., Caterpillar Inc. and Honeywell International Inc.
While few details have been released, Ross said more deals will be announced Thursday.
But for all the pageantry and dealmaking surrounding Trump’s visit, the question remains: Will China agree to any meaningful steps to rein in North Korea? Because no matter how chummy the two leaders get, a strong handshake will never change the fact that North Korea is an important buffer for the Chinese against US “missile defense” systems in Seoul. And while China has already taken steps to cut off the flow of trade and resources into the North, Trump’s push for the country to do more might prompt protests from the Chinese, who feel they’re already doing more than their fair share to contain Kim Jong Un’s nuclear ambitions.