PALM BEACH, Fla., (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said yesterday he had made progress in talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and expected them to overcome many problems, a marked contrast to the stridently anti-China rhetoric of Trump’s 2016 election campaign.
As the two leaders wrapped up a Florida summit overshadowed by U.S. missile strikes in Syria overnight, Xi joined Trump in papering over, at least in public, deep differences over issues ranging from trade to North Korea.
Trump had said he intended to raise concerns about China’s trade practices and press Xi to do more to rein in North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs during their summit meeting at his Spanish-style Mar-a-Lago resort though no major deals on either issue were expected.
Trump promised during the campaign to stop what he called the theft of American jobs by China and to rebuild the country’s manufacturing base. Many blue-collar workers helped propel him to his unexpected election victory on Nov. 8 and Trump is under pressure to deliver for them.
The Republican president, who took office on Jan. 20, tweeted last week that the United States could no longer tolerate massive trade deficits and job losses and that his meeting with Xi “will be a very difficult one.”
On Friday, the unpredictable Trump not only set a different tone but also avoided any public lapses in protocol that Chinese officials had feared could embarrass their leader.
“We have made tremendous progress in our relationship with China,” Trump told reporters as the two delegations met around tables flanked by large U.S. and Chinese flags. “We will be making additional progress. The relationship developed by President Xi and myself I think is outstanding.”
“And I believe lots of very potentially bad problems will be going away,” he added.
He offered no indication of what differences had been narrowed between the world’s two biggest economies.
Xi also spoke in mostly positive terms but offered only broad generalities.
“We have engaged in deeper understanding, and have built a trust – a preliminary working relationship and friendship,” he said. “I believe we will keep developing in a stable way to form friendly relations … For the peace and stability of the world, we will also fulfill our historical responsibility.”
“Well, I agree with you 100 percent, Mr. President,” Trump replied, speaking to a small pool of journalists allowed into the room for a few minutes.
After the meeting, Trump took Xi on a walk around the manicured grounds of his lavish Spanish-style complex. Both men wore dark suits. Trump could be seen chatting and gesturing to Xi, who did the same. The two men had a working lunch before Xi’s motorcade left the resort, ending the summit.
The highly anticipated U.S.-China summit was upstaged by U.S. missile strikes overnight against a Syrian air base from which Trump said a deadly chemical weapon attack had been launched. It was the first direct U.S. assault on the Russian-backed government of Bashar al-Assad in six years of civil war.
The swift action in Syria could be interpreted as a signal especially to defiant nuclear-armed North Korea – and by extension, its ally China – as well as other countries like Iran and Russia of Trump’s willingness to use military force if deemed necessary. North Korea is developing missiles capable of hitting the United States.
U.S. security concerns with China also focus on Beijing’s expansive territorial claims in the strategic South China Sea.
A senior administration official said Trump informed Xi about the strikes as their dinner concluded on Thursday night.
In Beijing, China’s Foreign Ministry urged all parties in Syria to find a political settlement.
Leading up to the summit, the protocol-conscious Chinese had privately expressed concerns that Trump, who has had awkward moments with several other leaders, might publicly embarrass the veteran Communist Party chief.
But Trump and Xi, politicians with distinctly different styles and experience levels, appeared cordial and businesslike in their interactions, with no outward sign of tensions.