Sunday 22 October 2017

Donald Trump begins summit with Chinese president

US First Lady Melania Trump (R) and President Donald Trump (2nd R) pose with Chinese President Xi Jinping (2nd L) and his wife Peng Liyuan (L) upon their arrival to the Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Florida, on April 6, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSONJIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
US First Lady Melania Trump (R) and President Donald Trump (2nd R) pose with Chinese President Xi Jinping (2nd L) and his wife Peng Liyuan (L) upon their arrival to the Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Florida, on April 6, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSONJIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Vivian Salama and Julie Pace

Donald Trump and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping have opened their high-stakes summit at the US president's Florida beach resort, with the urgent threat of North Korea's nuclear ambitions and tensions over trade on the agenda.

Mr Xi's visit was overshadowed though, by the US missile barrage on an air base in Syria in response to this week's chemical weapons attack against civilians, which Mr Trump blamed on Syria's president Bashar Assad.

The US announced the missile attack shortly after Mr Xi and his wife left the Mar-a-Lago estate on Thursday night.

Mr Trump appeared light-hearted earlier as he greeted Mr Xi at Mar-A-Lago, gesturing and pointing to journalists as they tussled to get a picture of the leaders together for the first time.

Ahead of the dinner, Mr Trump said he and Mr Xi already had had a long discussion and had "developed a friendship", then joked: "I have gotten nothing, absolutely nothing."

The White House said the location was selected to give the two days of discussions a more relaxed feel.

A number of Mr Trump's top advisers were there, including his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Outside the dining room where the two delegations gathered for a lavish dinner, Mar-a-Lago club members packed the patio for dinner.

Speaking on Air Force One on the way to Florida, Mr Trump pointed to the crisis in North Korea as a top priority in the meetings with Mr Xi.

He said he thinks China will "want to be stepping up" in trying to deter North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

While he would not say what he wants China to do specifically, he suggested there was a link between "terrible" trade agreements the US has made with China and Pyongyang's provocations and said the two issues "really do mix".

He has said that if China does not exert more pressure on North Korea, the US will act alone.

Read More: Trump: North Korea is a key issue in China talks

Both as a candidate and president, Mr Trump has taken an aggressive posture towards China, labelling Beijing a "tremendous problem" and arguing that lopsided trade deals with China short-change American businesses and workers.

Last week, the president predicted in a tweet that his meeting with Mr Xi would be "very difficult".

The White House has downplayed expectations for a breakthrough on issues like trade and tariffs, insisting that the 24-hour summit is mostly an introductory meeting for the two leaders.

Within Mr Trump's administration, there are still divisions over how to approach China.

According to US and foreign officials, treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and economic adviser Gary Cohn are leading the charge for boosting ties and exploring the potential for greater economic co-operation.

But economic adviser Peter Navarro, author of the book Death By China: Confronting The Dragon - A Global Call To Action, prefers trying to isolate China, in keeping with Mr Trump's "America first" mantra.

Read More: Taiwan: Trump-Xi meeting won't harm relations with US

Patrick Cronin, a China expert with the Centre for a New American Security, said the Trump administration does not have "a reconciled trade and economic policy yet, and the differing views on China in the White House underscore that".

Anthony Ruggiero, an east Asia expert at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, said China may be more willing to accommodate Mr Trump on trade and economic issues than on regional security matters, including North Korea.

Mr Xi, a shrewd political operator, is unlikely to want to rock the boat ahead of a Communist Party conclave later this year that will install new leadership.

He is also expected to seek assurances that Mr Trump will not interfere in the territorial dispute over the South China Sea or question the "One China" policy by reaching out to Taiwan's leader again, as he did during the transition.

The move infuriated Beijing, leading Mr Trump to eventually reiterate his commitment to the decades-old policy.

Previous White Houses have held China accountable for its human rights record, something this administration has made very little mention of, whether in China or elsewhere.

It also remains to be seen whether the Obama administration's deal with Beijing to curb Chinese cyber-theft for economic gain and its hacking of US companies will be addressed.

Press Association

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