China-US relations

Donald Trump meets with top Chinese envoy Yang Jiechi as hopes for Xi Jinping summit build

State Councillor Yang Jiechi expected to lay the foundation for meeting between Xi and Trump

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 February, 2017, 11:46pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 February, 2017, 2:55pm

Top Chinese envoy Yang Jiechi met with US President Donald Trump in the White House, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Yang was visiting the United States in hopes to lay the groundwork for a meeting between Chinese President Xi ­Jinping and his US counterpart Donald Trump that could come as early as May.

According to the Xinhua report published on Tuesday morning Beijing time, Trump told Yang that both sides needs to increase “high-level” exchanges and to increase cooperation in international affairs.

US Vice-President Mike Pence and Trump’s the son-in-law Jared Kushner were also at the meeting, Xinhua said.

Analysts said the trip would also allow officials on both sides to put Sino-US relations on a workmanlike footing after a period of deep uncertainty since Trump took office last month.

During his two-day visit, Yang would exchange views on ties with high-level US officials and discuss other areas of common concern, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said, without specifying who he would meet.

As a state councillor, Yang is the highest ranking diplomat in China and his visit follows several weeks of renewed communication between the two sides. Xi and Trump held a long-awaited phone conversation earlier this month, and Foreign Minister Wang Yi met US ­Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at G20 talks in Bonn, Germany. Yang also spoke to Tillerson last week.

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Wu Xinbo, director of the ­Centre for American Studies at Fudan University, said a summit between Xi and Trump could take place “no later than May”.

“During the phone call ­between President Xi and President Trump, they agreed that they would meet as early as possible. Since then, the two sides have ­visibly expedited communication,” Wu said.

Jia Qingguo, head of American studies at Peking University, said arranging the summit was likely part of Yang’s agenda.

During his conversation with Xi, Trump pledged to continue US recognition of the one-China ­policy, putting to rest concerns in Beijing – as least for now – that he would use the policy as a bargaining chip in negotiations over other issues such as trade and currency valuation.

The trade gap between the US and China narrowed to US$367.2 billion last year, but Trump ran his campaign on a pledge to address what he said were unfair economic deals that have cost America jobs. Wu expected the issue would also be on Yang’s agenda.

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Other pressing challenges include naval frictions in the disputed South China Sea and rising tensions on the Korean peninsula.

China tightened sanctions against Pyongyang following its latest missile test earlier this month, suspending coal imports from the isolated nation that form a crucial part of its economy.

Beijing appears to be waiting for the Trump administration to take the next step and possibly offer some sort of concession over the planned deployment of a US-backed anti-missile system in South Korea, which it sees as a threat to its miliary capabilities.

“We have already done our part, and now we can raise a ­request to the US that it should not make a dramatic move in the ­region,” Wu said.

It is Yang’s second trip to the US after Trump won the presidency. In December, he met up with then National Security Adviser nominee Michael Flynn in New York.