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China's Xi to meet Trump, who predicts 'difficult' meeting

Associated Press logo Associated Press 31/03/2017 By LOUISE WATT, Associated Press
FILE - This combination of file photos shows U.S. President Donald Trump on March 28, 2017, in Washington, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Feb. 22, 2017, in Beijing. China said Thursday, March 30, 2017, Xi and Trump will meet at the latter's Florida resort on April 6-7. It will be the first in-person meeting between the two. (AP Photo/Files) © The Associated Press FILE - This combination of file photos shows U.S. President Donald Trump on March 28, 2017, in Washington, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Feb. 22, 2017, in Beijing. China said Thursday, March 30, 2017, Xi and Trump will meet at the latter's Florida resort on April 6-7. It will be the first in-person meeting between the two. (AP Photo/Files)

BEIJING — U.S. President Donald Trump will meet with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for the first time on April 6-7 at Trump's Florida resort, China's Foreign Ministry announced Thursday, amid a range of pressing issues including trade, North Korea and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Trump predicted "a very difficult" meeting in a tweet just hours after both governments announced the summit. He wrote in part: "We can no longer have massive trade deficits and job losses. American companies must be prepared to look at other alternatives."

China's immediate response to Trump's tweet was diplomatic, with Vice Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang telling reporters Friday morning that "both sides look forward to a successful meeting so that a correct direction can be set for the growth of bilateral relations."

"China will continue to work with the United States to think creatively and keeping pushing for greater balance in China-U.S. trade," Zheng said.

The relationship between the world's No. 1 and No. 2 economies has been uncertain following the election of Trump, who accused China during his campaign of unfair trade practices and threatened to raise import taxes on Chinese goods and declare Beijing a currency manipulator.

It is unclear whether Trump will follow through with either threat. He is now seeking Beijing's help in pressuring North Korea over its nuclear weapons and missiles programs. China is North Korea's most important source of diplomatic support and economic assistance.

In February, Trump reaffirmed Washington's long-standing "one China" policy in a call with Xi, in an apparent move to ease concerns in China that he might use Taiwan as leverage in negotiations over trade, security and other sensitive issues. The policy in place since 1979 requires Washington to maintain only unofficial ties with Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory.

A statement from the White House said the two leaders will discuss global, regional and bilateral issues of mutual concern. President Trump and first lady Melania Trump will host Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan at a dinner on Thursday evening, it added.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters that Xi would meet with Trump at Mar-a-Lago, without providing any more details.

It is the same Florida resort where Trump hosted and played golf with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in February. Xi, a fan of soccer and other sports, is not known to play golf.

Before arriving in the U.S., Xi will pay a state visit to Finland on April 4-6, Lu said.

Relations between China and the U.S. under former President Barack Obama were strained by issues including China's island-building in waters surrounding international shipping lanes in the South China Sea, allegations of cyberhacking and a U.S. policy rebalance to Asia.

Despite that, cooperation between their militaries expanded tentatively, and China's defense ministry on Thursday hailed further growth, while warning of potential frictions ahead.

"We are willing to make joint efforts with the U.S. side ... so as to maintain a stable military-to-military relationship while striving to make new gains," spokesman Col. Wu Qian said.

However, Wu also reiterated China's opposition to the deployment of a sophisticated missile defense system in South Korea, known as THAAD, which Beijing says threatens its own security with its ability to monitor flights and missile launches deep inside northeastern China.

"The deployment of the THAAD system will definitely not make (South Korea) any safer. And secondly, the Chinese military's opposition to the THAAD system will definitely not be confined to just words," Wu said.

Asked what specific measures the People's Liberation Army was willing to take, Wu replied, "You will know when the time comes."

One bright spot touted by both sides under Obama was the two nations' cooperation, as the world's top emitters of greenhouse gases, on tackling climate change. Lu said Wednesday that China would stick to its climate commitments after Trump, who has called climate change a hoax, this week rescinded measures enacted by Obama to reduce coal and oil use.

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Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen contributed to this report.

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Follow Louise Watt on Twitter at twitter.com/louise_watt

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