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Donald Trump

Donald Trump sends letter to Xi Jinping seeking ‘constructive relationship’ with China

In the letter sent on Wednesday, US president also wished the Chinese people a prosperous Year of the Rooster

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 February, 2017, 10:35am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 February, 2017, 11:40am

US President Donald Trump has finally broken the ice with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping after sending him a letter on Wednesday saying he was looking forward to working with him “to develop a constructive relationship” between the two nations, the White House said in a statement.

Mainland observers said that by sending his first letter to Xi, Washington was reaching out to Beijing, even though Trump still had not set up a phone call with Xi since taking office on January 20.

However, the two leaders did manage to talk soon after Trump won the US presidential election in November.

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Trump’s letter also thanked Xi for his congratulatory note sent after his inauguration in January and wished the Chinese people a happy Year of the Rooster, according to White House spokesman Sean Spicer.

“President Trump stated that he looks forward to working with President Xi to develop a constructive relationship that benefits both the United States and China,” he said in a statement on Wednesday night.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said on Thursday at a regular press briefing that Xi had received Trump’s letter, and that Beijing “highly appreciated” Trump’s good wishes to Xi and the Chinese people.

Lu declined to comment on whether Beijing thought the greetings had arrived too late, or whether there were any plans to arrange a phone call between Xi and Trump.

During the phone conversation in November between the two leaders after Trump’s election victory, Xi said cooperation was the only choice for the two nations. Xi then sent a congratulatory message after the US president inauguration last month.

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But there had been concerns that communications between the two leaders were not running that smoothly because they had not had any direct communication in the past few weeks, in contrast with Trump’s many phone calls and meetings with other world leaders.

Mainland observers said Trump’s letter showed that he was finally catching up on establishing proper channels of communication with the Chinese leadership.

“Trump has been so caught up in domestic issues in the last few weeks … Now he is beginning to think about how to develop US relations with China,” said Wu Xinbo, director of the Centre for American Studies at Fudan University.

Wu also said Trump’s letter to Xi showed that he had come to realise the need to reciprocate Beijing’s offer of an olive branch.

“Interaction between the two countries goes both ways, and it can’t always be China who is taking the initiative,” he said.

Zhang Yunling, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Trump’s use of the words “constructive relationship” in his letter echoed similar calls from the Chinese leadership, and could be a positive signal amid concerns over increasingly strained bilateral ties under Trump.

Trump has previously made tough comments about Beijing. He vowed to label China a currency manipulator, and blamed Beijing for not doing enough to contain North Korea’s nuclear programme.

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Beijing has been stepping up its efforts to reach out to the US President in recent weeks, including inviting his daughter, Ivanka, to a Lunar Near Year reception at the Chinese embassy in Washington, the South China Morning Post reported on Monday.

Behind-the scenes communications between the two countries had also continued with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, having reportedly “had an extensive ongoing dialogue” with Cui Tiankai, the Chinese envoy to the US, an unnamed White House official was quoted as saying by Bloomberg.

In a phone call between Michael Flynn, the US National Security Adviser, and Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi last week, the two men agreed to strengthen cooperation between the two countries.

But Shi Yinhong, director of the Centre for American Studies at the Renmin University of China, said Beijing should not be overly optimistic about Trump’s letter.

“We can’t say that Trump is going to soften his stance on China just because he sent a letter,” said Shi, who is also an adviser to China’s State Council, “We can’t forget that he made a series of anti-China statements.”

Zhu Feng, the dean of international relations at Nanjing University, said China needed to stop believing that Trump would easily offer an olive branch to Beijing given that the two nations regarded one another as their biggest rivals.

“When China views the US as its biggest trouble maker, how could you expect either side to regard their relationship as very intimate,” he said.

Additional reporting by Wendy Wu