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Sino-US relations

Trump to host Xi Jinping for two-day summit in Florida next month, report says

Meeting planned for April 6 and 7 at US president’s Mar-a-Lago estate, according to American media report

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 March, 2017, 7:08pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 March, 2017, 4:35pm

US President Donald Trump plans to host Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida next month for a summit weighted with immense economic and security implications, a US media portal reported on Monday.

The report, citing US officials, said the summit would be held at Trump’s lavish Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach and was tentatively set for April 6 and 7.

No golf was planned during the top-level meeting, which would mostly be a working session, the Axios report said.

CNN, citing a senior US administration official, reported that the plan was only tentative.

Trump bought the sprawling Mar-a-Lago estate in 1985 and refers to it as his “Southern White House”.

The making of the Xi-Trump summit, the most-anticipated world leader’s meeting of 2017

The plans for the meeting are reminiscent of an informal summit between Xi and former US president Barack Obama at the Sunnylands retreat in Rancho Mirage, California in 2013. Observers said that setting had allowed the leaders to have more candid discussions.

The White House and the Chinese foreign ministry could not be immediately reached for comment and Chinese diplomats declined to confirm the arrangements.

“All I can say now is both sides are still exploring all possibilities to push for a leadership meeting as soon as possible, but it’s too early to make a formal announcement,” a diplomat in Beijing said.

Diplomats also said Beijing was unlikely to confirm the meeting before Washington did so, ­citing fears over Trump’s unpredictability which threw Sino-US relations into disarray in the early days of his administration.

“The biggest lesson we’ve learned so far from Trump is that everything is possible and we always have to be prepared for ­unforeseeable circumstances,” another diplomat said.

Analysts have also expressed concerns that tensions in bilateral relations could disrupt such a high-stakes meeting and spill over into preparations for the Communist Party’s five-yearly congress later this year.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s trip to Beijing this weekend, during which he is expected to meet Xi, would be crucial to building positive momentum for the summit, the observers said.

Renmin University international relations professor Pang Zhongying said the summit was unusual for being planned in haste. “There must be pressing issues for the two leaders to settle. Otherwise, China would not be in a rush for a meeting,” he said.

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Bilateral ties have been tested since Trump won the US presidential election in November, with Trump vowing to label China a currency manipulator and questioning the validity of the one-China policy, which recognises Taiwan as part of China.

But links between the two sides have been strengthened in recent weeks. In a phone call last month, Trump told Xi the US would honour its commitment to the one-China policy regarding Taiwan.

Yuan Zheng, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of American Studies, said a Xi-Trump summit would set the tone for Sino-US ties.“The Sino-US relationship will benefit even if the two leaders only establish a working relationship,” Yuan said.

But Huang Jing, a researcher at the National University of Singapore, cautioned against high expectations that the meeting would settle all the uncertainties between the two countries.

“I still think Trump is very likely to get tough about China,” Huang said. “While both sides may not want to see friction or conflict, it is necessary for Beijing to be prepared for worst-case scenarios, such as the much-speculated-on trade war.

“It is wishful to think that high-level exchanges between the two sides, including a meeting of leaders, could somehow influence a US foreign policy that has yet to take shape.”