Xi Jinping-Trump summit may be on the cards for April
Final arrangements still to be nailed down as Beijing fears mishap at top-level meeting
China and the US are looking for ways to hold a summit between President Xi Jinping and his counterpart Donald Trump as soon as possible, diplomatic observers said.
A meeting between the heads of the world’s two biggest economies could take place next month, Michael Green, from the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said on Friday on the sidelines of an event in Hong Kong.
If confirmed, the meeting would be the first face-to-face encounter for the two men.
In a phone call last month, Trump told Xi that the United States would honour its commitment to the one-China policy regarding Taiwan, an island that Beijing regards as a renegade province.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Wednesday that preparations were under way for the two leaders to meet, and he expected “good news” regarding the talks this year.
Wang’s remarks raised speculation that the meeting could be held earlier than the G20 summit in Germany in July, but mainland diplomatic observers said final arrangements for the talks had not been made.
Mainland diplomatic observers said efforts were being made for the Xi-Trump meeting, but the matter had to be handled very cautiously. Beijing was concerned about the potential embarrassment of a mishap from the meeting, given Trump’s unorthodox approach to diplomacy, they said.
Green said he did not expect Xi to spend as much time with Trump during their talks as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did in February – mainly because Xi was an avid soccer fan and did not share Trump’s interest in golf.
“Abe played pretty good golf. They [Abe and Trump] got along pretty well. I don’t think a Xi-Trump summit is going to be so much fun,” he said.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson makes his first official trip to Asia next week, with stops in Seoul and Tokyo. He will also visit Beijing on March 18, and is expected to meet Xi, laying the foundations for the two presidents to meet.
In a surprising move, Tillerson is not bringing a US media contingent with him.
The trip will be challenging in a complex and volatile northeast Asia. The former head of oil and gas conglomerate ExxonMobil has little experience in foreign policy and will have a tough job to reassure allies Japan and South Korea, while pressuring China to contain North Korea.
After the trip, Tillerson will head back to Washington for a two-day meeting with ministers from 68 countries on the battle against Islamic State. China was unlikely to take part in the gathering, observers said.
Interactions between officials from China and the US have increased in recent weeks after a period of uncertainty, particularly after Trump’s remarks appearing to put a question mark over US commitment to the one-China policy. Those sparked a furious response from Beijing, which said the foundation of Sino-US ties would be jeopardised if the policy was not respected.
Green said China’s ambassador to the US, Cui Tiankai, met regularly with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who played a major role in persuading Trump to support the one-China policy.