Trump relishes platform with Xi as China visit begins

Focus on softer diplomacy with Forbidden City visit and tea ceremony

U.S. President Donald Trump has met with Chinese President Xi Jinping as they toured, accompanied by their wives, the Forbidden City during Trump's two-night stop in the Chinese capital as part of his marathon Asia tour. Video: REUTERS

 

US president Donald Trump was having a “great time” on the latest leg of his five-nation Asian voyage, as he watched Peking opera in the Pavilion of Cheerful Melodies, an ancient theatre in the Forbidden City at the heart of Beijing.

Wearing overcoats against the autumn chill, China’s president Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan welcomed Mr Trump and his wife Melania to the Imperial Palace museum for a tea ceremony, the first event of a three-day state visit, which Beijing’s ambassador to the US, Cui Tiankai, has billed as a “state visit-plus”.

It was a busy day for Mr Trump. Earlier he threatened North Korea with the full weight of American wrath during a hardline speech to South Korea’s national assembly. By the time the Trumps reached Beijing in the afternoon, the focus had turned to soft power.

The official news agency Xinhua said Mr Trump had played a video for his hosts of his granddaughter Arabella Kushner reciting ancient Chinese verses. According to local television, Mr Xi said the little girl would get an “A+” for her Chinese and told the Trumps that she was already a big star in China.

Mr Xi finds Mr Trump more accomodating than his predecessors, despite aggressive tweets and threats of a trade war, and they have managed to maintain a warm relationship since they met at Mar-a-Lago in Florida earlier this year.

The Trumps will also visit the Great Wall and have an opportunity to meet some pandas.

Leverage

Mr Xi is currently at the peak of his powers. At a Communist Party congress two weeks ago he was backed for a second term as leader, and his philosophy, Xi Jinping Thought, was enshrined in the constitution, making him China’s most powerful leader since the Great Helmsman himself, Mao Zedong. He is eager to leverage that power into a more elevated role for China on the world stage.

The group walked through the Hall of Supreme Harmony, where the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties held their wedding ceremonies and enthronements.

The US leader and his entourage were greeted by hundreds of primary school students as they disembarked from Air Force One and the People’s Liberation Army band at Beijing International Airport.

US president Donald Trump and first lady Melania visit the Forbidden City with China’s President Xi Jinping and first lady Peng Liyuan in Beijing. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
US president Donald Trump and first lady Melania visit the Forbidden City with China’s President Xi Jinping and first lady Peng Liyuan in Beijing. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Mr Trump has promised to take aim at China’s trade deficit with the US and some big trade deals are expected, worth a possible $9 billion (€7.73 billion) and including the sale of 50 Bell helicopters.

He is also expected to try to get China to do more to resolve the nuclear standoff on the Korean Peninsula, and start tightening the screws on its ally North Korea on fuel and trade.

The Chinese are pleased that Mr Trump has not chosen to honour his campaign promises to go after China as a currency manipulator, and they are also expected to pressure Mr Trump on issues such as climate change.

Still on Twitter

During his trip to China, Mr Trump is expected to be able to use his favoured form of communication, Twitter, even though it has been banned here since 2009. The delegation will have its own Virtual Private Network (VPN) allowing him to tweet away happily, a luxury denied most Chinese who find the service, like Facebook and Google, is blocked by the complex system of internet controls known as the Great Firewall of China.

The first two legs of the Asian visit, to see Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo and Moon Jae-in in South Korea, appear to have gone smoothly, although trade issues remain testy.

Both Mr Xi and Mr Trump will travel to Vietnam and the Philippines for regional summits at the weekend, during which they will vie for support among leaders in the region.