BEIJING: The atmosphere of the first summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Donald Trump was much better than expected, and not only helped in the discussions but will also be good for the development of bilateral relations, Chinese analysts have said.
While the Chinese have sided with Syria and Russia on the US missile strikes against Syria on the first day of the summit, the strikes “absolutely did not damage the atmosphere of the Florida meeting”, said Professor Shi Yinhong, director of the Centre for American Studies at Renmin University.
Although the meeting was short on specific agreements and this fell short of earlier expectations, the analysts noted that both leaders have shown a desire not to let their countries’ differences impede the development of bilateral ties and cooperation.
The two leaders and members of their administrations met at Trump’s Mar-a-Largo resort in Florida on Thursday and Friday (April 6-7), although Xi did not stay at the resort but at another one in the same Palm Beach area.
Trump had during his election campaign been strident in his attack on China, saying its unfair trade practices amounted to a “rape” of the US economy and were costing Americans many jobs. He had threatened to slap punitive tariffs on Chinese goods and declare China a currency manipulator.
Ahead of the summit, he said in a tweet that the meeting would be “a very difficult one in that we can no longer have massive trade deficits and job losses”.
On North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes, another issue where the two sides have huge differences, Trump had also taken a hard line ahead of the meeting, saying the US would go it alone on North Korea if the Chinese refused to cooperate.
However, all this tough talk did not appear to have affected the summit adversely, in part because both sides were eager to make the meeting a success.
Indeed, the two leaders “have quite good chemistry and their interaction was not bad”, noted Professor Jia Qingguo, dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University.
The two men were more focused on the overall situation and hoped to push the relationship towards a positive direction and “did not wish for the contradictions in the two countries’ relationship to affect the development of their ties and their cooperation”, he added.
On economic and trade relations, over which China was worried about the possibility of a trade war, Prof Jia believes the two sides would have had a “candid and construction exchange”.
The two sides have agreed on a 100-day plan for trade talks aimed at boosting US exports and reducing China’s trade surplus with the US, media have reported.
“There were vague concessions” on the part of the Chinese, said Prof Shi, in that the talks would be on increasing US exports to China and reducing the trade imbalance between the two sides.
However, contrary to expectations, China appeared not to have offered investments in the US on infrastructure building, something close to Trump’s heart.
On North Korea, for which Trump has exerted enormous pressure on China to rein in the North’s nuclear and missile programmes, it would appear that Xi had politely said that China has done a lot but would not take the drastic measure of cutting off totally oil supply and trade with the North, Prof Shi said. China has been reluctant to take such a measure that will destabilise the North’s regime.
A White House statement said the two sides agreed on the urgency of North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat, reaffirmed their commitment to a denuclearised Korean peninsula, and committed to fully implement UN Security Council resolutions.
On other issues like US arms sale to Taiwan — which China regards as a breakaway province to be reunited at some point in time — Trump would not have given way on this and could even increase the quantity and quality of the arms sold to Taipei, said Prof Shi.
Xi was expected to raise this issue and to ask that the US delay arms sales till after the crucial 19th congress of the Communist Party later this year at which a leadership transition would take place.
As for the South China Sea disputes, while this was raised by Trump at the summit, China would not have budged from its current stand, added Prof Shi.
Still, the two sides agreed on new mechanisms to manage ties, including on diplomacy and security, economy, law enforcement and cybersecurity. These are grouped under the United States-China Comprehensive Dialogue that is headed by the two leaders.
Chinese analysts agreed that the summit was a good beginning for the relationship of the world’s two most powerful nations.