Chinese president Xi Jinping arrives for first meeting with Donald Trump

North Korea and US-China trade will be high on the agenda, but can the Mar-a-Lago summit soothe relations after Trump’s combative campaign talk?

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump welcome Chinese President Xi Jinping and First Lady Peng Liyuan at Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.


President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump welcome Chinese President Xi Jinping and First Lady Peng Liyuan at Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.
Photograph: Carlos Barria/Reuters

Chinese president Xi Jinping arrives for first meeting with Donald Trump

North Korea and US-China trade will be high on the agenda, but can the Mar-a-Lago summit soothe relations after Trump’s combative campaign talk?

Chinese president Xi Jinping has arrived in Florida for his first face-to-face meeting with his US counterpart Donald Trump, which is likely to focus on tensions over North Korea and trade.

The Chinese leader and his wife, Peng Liyuan, were greeted at Palm Beach international airport by secretary of state Rex Tillerson and a military honour guard.

Xi and his wife will join Trump for dinner at his Mar-a-Lago estate, their first encounter before Friday’s talks.

Speaking to reporters on his way to Florida, Trump said that the two main issues in the meeting would be North Korea’s nuclear programme and trade with China.

“We have been treated unfairly and have made terrible trade deals with China for many, many years. That’s one of the things we are going to be talking about. The other thing of course is going to be North Korea.”

Earlier Thursday, Pyongyang threatened to deliver “the most ruthless blow” if there is “even the smallest provocation” from the United States.

The comment came after Trump told the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, that “all options are on the table” – including military action – to address North Korea.

In a commentary timed to coincide with Xi’s arrival, China’s official news agency Xinhua warned that US companies stood to lose the most if Trump followed through on threats to launch a trade war against Beijing.

But Xinhua painted a sunny portrait of relations between the world’s two largest economies, saying that predictions that US-China ties might spiral out of control under Trump had not come true.

However Xinhua cautioned Trump, who last year threatened to slap 45% tariffs on Chinese imports, not to locking horns with Beijing over trade.

“Neither side can afford to sacrifice cooperation … [But] if there were a trade war, it would be foreign-funded companies, particularly US firms, that would lose out,” it said.

Xinhua also took out a full-page advert in the New York Times which described the meeting as a “vital moment for the two nations, the Asia-Pacific region and the globe as a whole”.

Throughout the election campaign Donald Trump repeatedly lambasted China.


Throughout the election campaign Donald Trump repeatedly lambasted China. Photograph: Michele Eve Sandberg/AFP/Getty Images

The article expressed hopes that instead of concentrating on “vexing trivialities that have bothered the two nations”, Xi and Trump would concentrate on “strategic and defining questions that could lead to constructive bilateral ties”.

On the campaign trail and the stump, Trump repeatedly lambasted China on issues including allegedly currency manipulation, the militarisation of the South China Sea and what he claimed was Beijing’s inaction on North Korea, which on Wednesday launched its latest ballistic missile test.

The tone has softened in recent weeks, however, with officials on both sides billing the first face-to-face meeting between Trump and Xi as an opportunity to discuss – but not resolve – key differences.

Orville Schell, the head of the Centre on US-China Relations at New York’s Asia Society, said he suspected Trump would be a gracious host to Xi despite his fondness for China-bashing.

“He has an opportunity here [to establish a productive rapport with Xi] before he muddies the waters. Because once he gets going with China – with a few tariffs or a few trade disputes or whatever the hell they are going to do, a dust up in the South China Sea – then all bets are off,” he added.

Paul Haenle, a veteran US diplomat who advised both George W Bush and Barack Obama on China policy, said he believed Xi would seek to stabilise relations by bringing to Mar-a-Lago a list of economic “gestures” designed to send Trump the message: “We get it. We hear you”.

With a key quinquennial Communist party congress looming later this year, Chinese officials hoped to use the summit to bolster Xi’s political standing back home. “They are less into the substance and more into the optics.”

But there was an underlining danger that a freewheeling, tweet-happy Trump would become irritated with the formulaic pre-approved monologues he was likely to hear from his guest. “Trump may get impatient with that. He may get frustrated and they may not be able to develop the kind of chemistry that they have hoped for.”

Unlike previous visitors such as Abe, Xi is unlikely to play golf with Trump: the Chinese leader has banned Communist party members from the sport as part of a broad crackdown on corruption.