As US President Donald Trump is ready to host his Chinese counterpart Xi Jingping at the former’s Mara-a-Lago resort in Florida on April 6-7, the whole world has started concentrating on the “mega event”.
With President Trump hitting out at China in his poll campaign, there is a speculation that the meeting between the two giants will be a ‘difficult’ one. The American president himself believes so. That is why he said that his meeting with President Xi would be ‘very difficult’.
Even before his inauguration as the president, Trump emphasised his interest in rethinking America’s relationship with the Asian giant. And after his inauguration, the Sino-American ties were slow-moving. The 45th US president made first contact with President Xi on February 9. However, their first presidential phone call failed to break the ice and there was no improvement in bilateral ties. Now, foreign policy experts are hoping that the April 6-7 meet will clear the air on status of Sino-American relations. However, they believe that it will be a difficult task for both Trump and Xi to ‘normalise’ ties because they will have to deal with various issues.
For President Trump, it will be important to clear his stance on issues, like Taiwan, trade, North Korea, missile shield and South China Sea. During the American presidential transition in December 2016, Trump’s unprecedented decision to accept a congratulatory phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen irked China, which considers the island nation a part of its sovereign territory. Relations between Beijing and Taipei declined sharply after Tsai’s May 2016 inauguration. In the past, Beijing objected to arms sales and any official recognition of the Taiwanese government and both of them found reference in the American president’s recent tweets.
During the presidential election, Trump accused China of currency manipulation and over-taxation of American imports. He also proposed a 45% tariff on Chinese imports. Now, President Xi may raise these trade-related issues during his meeting with the American president and such a move could set the two powers on a collision course.
The Chinese president may also not accept Washington’s demand to press North Korea to end its nuclear programme, as Beijing is the communist regime’s biggest trade and diplomatic partner. If President Trump plans to raise the ‘North Korea’ issue, then President Xi will certainly raise the missile shield issue in Florida. China is opposed to South Korea’s deployment of the US anti-missile system THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence) because the system is designed to shoot down short, medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles in their terminal phase using a hit-to-kill approach. Beijing says that THAAD threatens its security.
As far as South China Sea (SCS) is concerned, China has been making strides in asserting its claim to the entire SCS, challenging the US Navy’s insistence on free navigation in the key waterbody. It is still not clear whether the two presidents have any plans to discuss the SCS issue in Florida.
An Gang, from Beijing-based think tank Pangoal Institution, said on Friday that President Trump calmed bilateral nerves by making a phone call to President Xi in February. “Next week’s meeting is expected to further clear up the status of ties,” he added. The Chinese Foreign Ministry, too, has claimed that the upcoming meeting between the two presidents will redefine the Sino-American ties. Speaking at a press conference in Beijing a couple of days ago, China’s Vice Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang stressed: “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 US to think creatively and keeping pushing for greater balance in China-US trade.”
The nervous world will closely watch how the two leaders handle outstanding issues and ensure global peace with a hope that great leaders know how to manage themselves in times of high stakes emotion, crisis and conflict.