US President Donald Trump toured the Forbidden City with Chinese leader Xi Jinping today as he began the crucial leg of an Asian tour intended to build a global front against North Korea’s nuclear threats.
After warning the North’s “cruel dictatorship” in a speech in Seoul against testing the United States, Trump and First Lady Melania Trump were met by Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan for tea at the former imperial palace.
The genial gathering will be followed tomorrow by a full day of thorny talks, with Trump looking to prod Xi into doing more to squeeze North Korea economically and to address China’s massive trade surplus with the United States.
The Trump administration sees Beijing as the key to controlling Pyongyang, which depends on China for its economic survival and for 90 percent of its trade. Earlier, Trump congratulated Xi on his reappointment as China’s Communist Party chief, tweeting: “I very much look forward to meeting with President Xi who is just off his great political victory.”
Trump’s use of the term “political victory” for the outcome of last month’s Communist Party congress was seen by analysts as a conciliatory move before tough talks. “He’s laying it on thick to put Xi in a good mood because he will have unpleasant things to tell him,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, China politics specialist at Hong Kong Baptist University.
Xi has prepared an extravagant “state visit-plus” for Trump, who was greeted by children waving US and Chinese flags at the airport. He was treated to a Peking Opera performance at the Forbidden City.
Xi said during the tour that he expected Trump’s visit to yield “positive and important” results. The US leader has brought a business delegation and 19 deals worth a total $9 billion were signed today.
But they may not be enough to allay US concerns about China’s massive trade surplus with the United States, which narrowed in October but remained high at a monthly $26.6 billion.
“Addressing the imbalance in China trade has been the central focus of collaborative discussions between President Trump and President Xi,” US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said. Hours earlier, in an address to the South Korean parliament, Trump gave a preview of what he will ask Beijing to do regarding North Korea.
“You cannot support, you cannot supply, you cannot accept,” he said, urging China and Russia to fully implement UN sanctions, downgrade diplomatic relations and sever all trade and technology ties. A senior White House official said China is doing “much more than it’s ever done in the past” but it could try harder to curb trade at the border with North Korea. —AFP