Beijing speaks softly ahead of Xi-Trump summit after US president anticipates ‘difficult’ meeting

China’s foreign ministry paints rosy picture for ties despite US president’s critical tweets

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 March, 2017, 11:36am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 March, 2017, 11:07pm

Beijing is striking a cordial tone for the first summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump next week, while defending its trade practices after Trump tweeted that the meeting would be “a very difficult one”.

According to the tweets by the US president, his meeting with Xi at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida on April 6 and 7 would not be easy “in that we can no longer have massive trade deficits ... and job losses.” Trump added: “American companies must be prepared to look at other alternatives.”

Asked about Trump’s tweets on Friday, Zheng Zeguang, a Chinese foreign vice-minister, reiterated Beijing’s usual lines that China was not deliberately chasing trade surpluses or seeking trade advantages by devaluing its currency.

“The trade relations between China and the US have brought seeable and tangible benefits to both countries,” Zheng said. “Chinese companies’ investment in the US is growing rapidly and creating job opportunities there, which can help address the trade deficit.”

Zheng called on Washington to relax US restrictions on technology exports to China and create “a good environment” for Chinese companies investing in the United States.

The remarks from Zheng came after Washington voiced its expectations for the talks between the leaders, including demanding that Beijing do more to rein in North Korea, and address the trade deficit.

Trump has many times criticised China over trade issues in public speeches and remarks, and has also complained publicly that Beijing was not doing enough to help solve the North Korea issue.

At the same time, Beijing is trying to paint a rosy picture for the future of the bilateral relationship.

“Xi and Trump have had many phone conversations and communications, and have reached consensus on the development of Sino-US relations,” Zheng said. “Both sides believe that the two nations can be cooperative partners and seek mutual benefits based on the principles of being non-confrontational and non-conflict, and address sensitive issues in a constructive manner.”

Xi will head to Finland for a state visit on April 4, before travelling to the Mar-a-Lago estate on April 6 for the summit with Trump. Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan would attend a welcome banquet hosted by Trump and his wife Melania, Zheng said.

Avoid beer and skip the handshake: how Xi should handle first Trump meeting

In addition to trade, the summit is expected to cover other thorny issues including the South China Sea disputes in addition to North Korea’s nuclear programme.

On Thursday, US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the US wanted China to prove it was really seeking to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear tests with actions, as the Trump administration had “no patience” for the “cat and mouse situation” on the Korean peninsula.

Zheng called for measures to stop tension on the peninsula from escalating.

“The two sides will have deep exchanges of issues of mutual concern [during the summit] to deepen our understanding,” Zheng said. “The current situation facing the Korean peninsula is complicated and sensitive. All parties should refrain from actions that will escalate the tension, and seek all kinds of opportunities to push for denuclearisation.”

Additional reporting by Zhou Xin