It was an adept opener. After twice tweeting out his appreciation, Trump on Thursday met Xi at the firmly watched Great Hall of the People, where, encompassed by corporate CEOs, he supervised the marking of $250 billion in exchange arrangements and kept on lauding his tyrant host.
The two-day trip was organized to extend the picture of remote and outright power that Xi appreciates and Trump respects. There were no dissents, no inquiries from the press, no standard individuals — only merriments and calming tones.
Trump raised North Korea, however, said Xi could explain it. He raised the exchange shortfall yet said it was not China’s fault. He said the Chinese individuals are extremely pleased with Xi.
After all the cajoling, the United States is expecting a considerable measure consequently from Beijing — yet Xi, in the ascendant, may not move. That could prompt frustration in the United States and contact not far off in the relationship.
While the two sides were satisfied to see a high-stakes visit end without an episode, there are inquiries regarding what was picked up and what, maybe, was lost.
“Discuss grasping the Leninist political framework,” said Evan S. Medeiros, who heads the Eurasia Group’s scope of the Asia-Pacific locale and was the National Security Council’s Asia executive in the Obama organization. “In Trump’s push to charm himself with Xi, would he say he is incidentally surrendering American power to China?”
The United States, Medeiros contended, is the anchor power in Asia on account of the tenets, establishments, and qualities it speaks to. “Trump generally raises doubt about that when he’s adulating the Chinese political system — and not getting much in return.”
Xi, said analysts, may have calculated that the really tough negotiations with the United States, on a range of issues, still lie ahead and that China can play a strong hand. Until then, he can sit tight.
“My expectation is that not much will come from China,” said Max Baucus, until the beginning of this year the U.S. ambassador to China. “And that is going to put Trump in a bit of a box.”
William Zarit, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, applauded the trade deals but also wondered what comes next, whether the Trump administration would be able to use the momentum to tackle tougher issues in the U.S.-China economic relationship, such as market access for U.S. firms in China.
“The question remains: What is being done about these structural issues?” he asked. “We hope to see proactive measures by the Chinese to address the imbalances in the relationship, as pressure is building in the U.S. to take reactive reciprocal actions.”
As a candidate, Trump often lashed out at Beijing, blaming the Chinese economy for a host of U.S. ills. But when Trump hosted Xi at the president’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, his tone changed.
In an apparent effort to secure Xi’s help on North Korea, Trump has curtailed his criticism and shifted his focus to areas where he thinks he can win.
The focus on signing deals in front of the cameras — as opposed to, say, hammering out solutions to long-standing economic issues — makes some sense, experts said.
Trump lacks diplomatic experience and has been slow to make appointments to several key Asia roles. “We haven’t yet had the bandwidth in the U.S. administration or the time to have detailed conversations with the Chinese side on market access and other systemic issues,” said Timothy P. Stratford, managing partner of Covington and Burling’s Beijing office and a former assistant U.S. trade representative.
“Unless you’ve had time to discuss these very difficult and complicated issues in some detail, you can’t expect the two presidents to announce anything that is concrete and detailed and meaningful,” he said. “I fully expect these very tough discussions to begin in the next few months.”
Chen Dingding, a professor at Guangzhou’s Jinan University, said the visit was a starting point — a first offer on the way to the next deal. “What’s the alternative? No trade deals? Often you can’t get your best deal — you can get your second best, get your third and move from there.”
Both the Chinese and U.S. sides, of course, are casting Thursday’s agreements as first rate. At a briefing after the meeting, Commerce Minister Zhong Shan said the deals were “a miracle.”
China’s Communist Party-controlled press seems pleased, for now, with Trump’s visit, for what he said and didn’t say. The Global Times, a newspaper known for its nationalist rhetoric, ran an editorial Thursday headlined, “What do most Chinese people like about Trump?”
The piece noted Trump’s “frank” character and “pragmatic” approach to U.S.-China ties, mentioning specifically that he does not bring up human rights.
One of the main reasons China likes Trump is that Trump likes Xi, the paper argued. “He respects our head of state and has repeatedly praised President Xi Jinping in public.”
The paper noted in particular that Trump had been quick to call Xi after the recent 19th Party Congress. “This is respect for the Chinese system.”
The question is what happens if the friendly rhetoric changes — if Trump, for whatever reason, stops being so positive about Xi. With the mood in the United States turning increasingly skeptical about China and the benefits of the bilateral relationship, that has to be a real possibility, experts said.
“President Xi and the Chinese leadership will think that they have done an awful lot to give President Trump face: They’ve done a ‘state visit plus,’ they’ve rolled the red carpet out with all the pomp and ceremony, they did all these business deals, and they come away thinking the relationship is on a solid footing,” said Paul Haenle, director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center in Beijing.
“But President Trump may go home to a domestic political environment where people are disappointed he hasn’t achieved more progress on trade and economics and North Korea,” he said, “and you may see a shift towards a much harder line.”
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