(BEIJING) — President Trump faces a delicate diplomatic dance on his state visit with Chinese President Xi Jinping as he seeks to renew pressure on China to address the North Korean threat and U.S. trade relations.
“I want to just say that President Xi … has been very helpful. We’ll find out how helpful soon,” Trump said Tuesday in a joint news conference in South Korea.
While Trump has publicly touted his strong rapport with Xi, attempting to leverage their personal ties into substantive progress has had mixed results.
“If we get China, if we get Russia — and we have some other countries, but we want to get most of them — we think that things will happen, and they could happen very quickly,” Trump said Tuesday of the multilateral effort to address the crisis with North Korea.
On Thursday local time, Trump will be treated to a welcome ceremony at China’s Great Hall of the People and will participate in an extended meeting with Xi. That meeting will be followed by a separate meeting with a delegation of business leaders.
Trump’s meeting with Xi follows a landmark speech to the South Korean General Assembly where he directly called out China for supporting the North Korean regime.
“Why would China feel an obligation to help North Korea?” Trump said, calling on China to join other “responsible nations” in isolating Pyongyang. “We call on every nation, including China and Russia, to fully implement U.N. Security Council resolutions, downgrade diplomatic relations with the regime and sever all ties of trade and technology.”
Trump has wavered in his assessment of just how much influence China could have in deterring North Korea’s aggressive behavior.
But leading up to the president’s trip, the White House stressed that the regime presents a “global threat” requiring a unified response from all nations in the region, something echoed by Trump this week in Japan and South Korea.
As the president looks to confront China over what his administration has deemed “predatory” trade behavior, though, Trump could find himself in thorny territory.
“The visit will send a clear message that, for bilateral economic relations to be sustainable over the long term, China must provide fair and reciprocal treatment to U.S. firms and cease predatory trade and investment practices,” a White House official said leading up to the president’s visit.
Trump has long criticized U.S. international deal making, particularly with China. But his tone changed significantly after taking office.
After their summit at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in April, the two countries agreed on a 100-day plan to address trade issues. In July, China and the United States settled on a deal to expand access to U.S. firms in China’s market and increase trade of chicken and beef, among other moves the administration claimed would decrease the U.S. trade deficit with China.
That trade deficit has been a prime target for Trump, most recently in his news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday.
“Our trade deficit is massive. It’s hundreds of billions of dollars a year, anywhere from $350 billion to $504 billion, and that doesn’t include intellectual property,” Trump said. “And we’ve already started discussions with China because it has to come down. It has to come down.”
Prior to the president’s departure, an administration official said that progress with China on economic issues “has become increasingly difficult” as of late, pushing the issue to the top of the agenda when Trump and Xi sit down Thursday.
Previewing their sit-down, Trump characterized Xi less as the leader of a longtime U.S. adversary, but more as a kindred spirit on the world stage.
“As far as China is concerned, my relationship, as you know, with President Xi is also excellent. I like him a lot,” Trump said Monday. “I consider him a friend. He considers me a friend. With that being said, he represents China; I represent the United States. His views are different on things, but they’re pretty similar on trade.”
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