What does Donald Trump expect from Xi Jinping and vice versa?

US President Donald Trump meets China’s counterpart Xi Jinping.

China’s President Xi Jinping. Credit: https://ec.europa.eu

Questions:

1. At this moment what do both sides expect from each other regarding North Korea issue?

2. In general, what do you expect from Trump-Xi meeting? Is it just a kick off  of relations or can we expect something substantial?

Answers:

Harold TannerProfessor of Chinese History, Department of History, University of North Texas

1. It appears that the American side expects—or perhaps hopes would be a better word—that China will take some concrete and sustained efforts to work with the United States to slow or stop the North Korean nuclear weapons and missile programs. The problem is that the American attitude seems to be that China should simply recognize that this is important and do whatever the United States demands. As far as I can tell, nobody in the Trump administration has thought seriously (at least not publicly) about what the United States could do for China in return for Chinese cooperation on the North Korea issue. One would expect that President Trump, author of The Art of the Deal, would know that you have to give something in order to get something. As for the Chinese—they will certainly reiterate their point of view—that the United States should pursue diplomacy, take steps to lower tension in the region by, for example, reducing the number and scope of joint military exercises with South Korea, and negotiate directly with North Korea. While doing this, the Chinese surely realize that the Trump administration cannot and will not take any such steps. As a result, nothing significant will be done.

2. I do not expect very much substantial to come out of this meeting. In order for such a high-profile meeting of national leaders to yield results, lower-level diplomats need to put in many, many long hours of work hammering out agreements. The Trump administration has not had the time—and has not even put a full team of diplomats in place—to make this happen. It does appear that the process of preparing for this meeting has led to the Trump administration sidelining some of the personnel (Peter Navarro, for example) who have advocated hard-line positions on trade and on issues like the South China Sea and Taiwan. Perhaps, then, this summit will be part of the process through which the Trump administration returns to the moderate China policy that has, for the most part, characterized American administrations from the time of Nixon onwards. This would not be surprising given the strong influence of business interests in the White House, and the influence of Henry Kissinger.

Stephan Haggard, Krause Professor of Korea-Pacific Studies, Director, Korea-Pacific Program, University of California San Diego

1. Basically it is simple. The US would like to see China exert more pressure on North Korea, either through sanctions or diplomacy, to get back to talks and ultimately to denuclearize. China wants the US to engage North Korea and enter into talks, and sees sanctions as a means of doing that.

2. Honestly, no one knows. But the administration claims that its review of North Korea policy is complete and it has made statements suggesting it is willing to act unilaterally. Some think this means a military respons, but I think it is likely to be an attempt to impose secondary sanctions on Chinese firms doing business with North Korea.

Lawrence C. ReardonAssociate Professor of Political Science, Coordinator, Asian Studies Minor, University of New Hampshire

1. I am assuming that Xi Jinping has a good idea by know how to deal with Trump, who has already signaled that if China won’t act more aggressively toward North Korea, the US will.  Trump probably thinks that China can control North Korea, and to a certain extent, it is true that China could ratchet up the pressure.  So I think Trump thinks he can bargain with China, while Xi holds all the cards in dealing North Korea.  Of course, behind all of this is the US possible threats of putting economic sanctions against Chinese firms dealing with NK, as well as tariffs against all Chinese goods.  This would just make Xi more adamant to protect NK and to protect China’s self-interest.

2. I have a bad feeling that nothing will occur, but this is so difficult to predict because of the two men’s personalities. They obviously share a common problem, and neither of them have the solution of how to deal with such a dangerous state.  Xi will get nowhere if he just focuses on THAAD deployment in South Korea.  And Trump will get nowhere if he continues to bluster his way by trying to pressure Xi.  I am sure that Xi feels that he at least is getting the Abe treatment by having the meeting in Florida.  But I have no idea how the two men will get along.  Trump’s track record as a diplomat is deplorable, and it is possible he feels he can put undo pressure on Xi.  Xi has yet to prove that he can deal with Trump, whose personality is so abrasive and aggressive.  On the other hand, Trump admires strong autocratic personalities, so maybe he might grow to respect Xi.

Prashanth Parameswaran, Associate Editor at The Diplomat, PhD Candidate. Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University

1. The United States expects China to lean heavier on North Korea because it senses that the threat is getting more and more urgent. I suspect the Chinese will try to provide some reassurance on North Korea, but it won’t be nearly enough for the United States because the threat perception is ultimately more acute for Washington than it is for Beijing, and Beijing’s chief concern is stability rather than tackling the nuclear threat Pyongyang poses.

2. We should not expect too much from the meeting substance-wise. This is a summit that has come very, very early on in the administration: before U.S. departments can be properly staffed, and before the administration has properly laid out its Asia policy or even its complete China policy. I would look more at the signs of how both sides are getting along, especially since this is the first-ever meeting in person between Trump and Xi, and the two personalities are quite different.

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