You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Trump's Tweets Target China Just Days Before His Xi Meeting

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 31/03/2017 Ting Shi and Toluse Olorunnipa

China expressed optimism about Xi Jinping’s first meeting with Donald Trump, despite the U.S. president’s predictions of a “very difficult” discussion when the leaders of the two biggest economies sit down next week.

Foreign ministry officials deflected questions about Trump’s latest China criticism at a briefing in Beijing on Friday to discuss the April 6-7 summit, with Vice Minister Zheng Zeguang calling it a “new starting point” for relations. The news conference came just two hours after Trump took to Twitter to blame the country for U.S. trade deficits and job losses.

“The meeting next week with China will be a very difficult one in that we can no longer have massive trade deficits and job losses,” Trump wrote. “American companies must be prepared to look at other alternatives.”

The posts raise expectations for a breakthrough at the informal first encounter between the presidents, planned for Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, far from the U.S. capital. Trump has previously angered Chinese leaders by accusing the country of currency manipulation and by making overtures to Taiwan.

Fu Mengzi, vice president of the State Security Ministry-backed China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said that leaders in Beijing would continue their policy of “strategic composure” and wouldn’t react to a president known for his unpredictability.

“We also need to consider who he’s talking to -- who is the audience? I don’t think he’s only talking to us,” Fu said. “He was also talking to the Congress and those people who voted for him. It would be of no use to get lost in some trivial war of words. We’ll still need to stay level-headed.”

US President Donald Trump. © Rex Images US President Donald Trump. First Meeting

China is the U.S.’s biggest trading partner, as well as the nation enjoying the biggest surplus in the trade of goods -- $347 billion last year, almost half of the U.S. total. Still, the country is among the top three export markets for 33 states.

Trump campaigned for office highlighting grievances with Beijing, regularly decrying the U.S. trade deficit with China, and raising concern over the country’s military expansion to back its territorial claims in disputed maritime areas. Yet tensions have eased of late, particularly after Trump agreed to honor the decades-old One-China policy concerning Taiwan in a phone call with Xi last month.

The two countries are also seeking common ground on efforts to curb North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which has been alarming U.S. allies in the region. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said earlier this month the meeting would seek to “defuse tensions over North Korea and the recent deployment” of the first stages of the U.S. Army’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system in South Korea.

Xi Jinping, China's president. © SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg Xi Jinping, China's president. Opportunity, Risk

“The real toughness will be behind-the-door and in actual negotiation,” Fu said. “I still think the summit provides more opportunity than risk.”

Zheng, the vice foreign minister, said the two sides needed to implement the early consensus reached in February, when Xi spoke with Trump for the first time after his inauguration. Sensitive issues should be handled “constructively,” said Zheng, adding that China also wanted to bring greater balance in two-way trade.

The timing of the meeting appears tricky, with a U.S. review of China’s market-economy status under the World Trade Organization expected to be announced as early as this week. Also, South Korean intelligence warned Wednesday that North Korea could conduct its sixth nuclear bomb test in the first week of April to “overshadow” the summit.

Ni Shixiong, a professor at Fudan University’s Center for American Studies in Shanghai, said Thursday that the talks may push Trump to clarify his positions on key issues regarding China, including Taiwan and North Korea.

“It’s better to meet earlier than late from a strategic perspective -- especially an earlier meeting can help shape his China policy,” Ni said. “They will discuss things broadly rather than get bogged down down in details.”  

Xi will also pay a state visit to Finland from April 4 to April 6, Lu said Tuesday. He will be the first Chinese head of state to visit the Nordic country since 1995.

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon