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Sino-US relations

Why is Donald Trump giving Chinese leader Xi Jinping the apparent cold shoulder?

US president has broken with a tradition established by predecessors that saw the exchange of holiday greetings

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 February, 2017, 7:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 February, 2017, 5:01pm

US President Donald Trump has been busy meeting and calling world leaders since he took office on January 20, but the lines of communication between the Oval Office and Zhongnanhai appear to be quiet.

Nor did the new president appear to have sent any personal greetings to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping or the Chinese public on Lunar New Year day, in a break with a tradition established by his predecessors.

Instead, a 91-word press statement by Acting Secretary of State Thomas Shannon was released on the website of the Department of State on Lunar New Year’s eve on Trump’s behalf.

However, his daughter Ivanka Trump did attend the Chinese embassy’s holiday reception with her daughter on Wednesday.

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The two watched a music and dance performance accompanied by the Chinese ambassador to the US, Cui Tiankai.

Chinese state television reported her appearance in its prime time news bulletin yesterday.

The relative lack of contact contrasts sharply with how Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama reached out to the Chinese community on such occasions.

Obama not only issued a message written in the first person every year beginning in 2010, but he also filmed videos greetings in four of those years.

The practice of making a personal diplomatic gesture towards China traces back as far as 1976, to the administration of former US president Gerald Ford.

Since Trump’s inauguration on January 20, he has spoken by phone with top leaders from Australia, Canada, Russia, Japan, Germany, France, Israel, India, Mexico, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, The first foreign leader to meet Trump in person after he moved into the White House was Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May, just a week after he took up the presidency.

The last reported interaction between Trump and Xi was in the form of a holiday card. Trump told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published on January 13 that he had received a “beautiful” holiday card from “the chairman”. This came after the two men were confirmed to have spoken by phone in mid-November after Trump was elected earlier that month.

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Shi Yinhong, director of American Studies at Beijing’s Renmin University, said Trump was deliberately giving the Chinese leader a cold shoulder” by calling all other major world leaders but not the Chinese president. “Trump’s isolation of Xi implies he wants to show he has the upper hand in the distribution of world power,” Shi said.

Shi believed the move underlined the uncertainties that have beset Sino-US ties following Trump’s election, but he expected the new leader to address his relationship with China soon after the controversy surrounding his immigration ban subsided.