Trump writes to China hoping for ‘constructive relationship’

Still no plans for phonecall between two leaders as US keen to improve relations

After belligerent statements from both sides in recent weeks, US President Donald Trump has sent a letter to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping saying he looked forward to a "constructive relationship" that would benefit the two countries.

"President Trump stated that he looks forward to working with President Xi to develop a constructive relationship that benefits both the United States and China, " ran the text of the letter, released by the White House.

The leaders of the world’s biggest and second largest economies have not spoken since Mr Trump’s inauguration, most likely because China rigidly stage-manages all high-level exchanges and fears the content of the call could be posted on Twitter.

Beijing will also not have been encouraged by Mr Trump's tense and fractious phone call with Australian premier Malcolm Turnbull, and his general tendency to speak off-the-cuff.


There has been a lot of speculation about when Mr Trump and Mr Xi would be in touch by telephone, but the letter suggests that no call is imminent, although it does suggest that Washington is keen to put relations on a better footing.

The letter thanked Mr Xi for his message of congratulation after the inauguration and wished the Chinese people a prosperous Lunar New Year of the Rooster.

China has been especially wary of Mr Trump since his election campaign, when he accused China of “raping” America with its cheap exports.

Trump has consistently and repeatedly attacked the country for currency manipulation, although he did not fulfil his promise to officially call China out as a currency manipulator on his first day in the White House.

Mr Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on Chinese goods.

Beijing is also angry at his decision in December to accept a congratulatory call from Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen, whom China sees as pushing for independence on the island, which has been self-ruled since the Nationalists fled there in 1949 after losing the Civil War.

China insists Taiwan is sovereign territory, a province to be returned to the fold at some point, by force if necessary.

During his Senate confirmation hearing, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said China should not be allowed access to islands it has built on disputed reefs in the South China Sea.

The White House also vowed to defend “international territories” in the strategic waterway.

Mr Trump has also appointed a well-known China hawk Peter Navarro as a trade adviser.

There have been signs of a thawing in relations, such as when Mr Trump’s daughter Ivanka attended a Chinese lunar new year event on February 1st in the embassy in Washington, but generally Chinese people remain suspicious of Mr Trump.

This week, Judge He Fan of the Supreme People’s Court criticised Mr Trump for publicly attacking a judge who blocked his immigration order.

In a posting on his popular WeChat blog, Mr He wrote:

“A president criticising judges and bandits murdering judges are all enemies of the rule of law,” he wrote.

Additional reporting: Reuters

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing