What Trump and Xi will be looking for when they meet

Both the US and China have key concerns that are sure to come up at the summit in Florida

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 April, 2017, 8:03am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 April, 2017, 8:03am

China and the United States’ leaders finally meet this week in Florida after some tough rhetoric from Donald Trump ahead of the summit. Both sides stress the meetings will be informal, similar to President Xi Jinping’s discussions with Barack Obama at the Sunnylands estate in California four years ago. Here are the main issues each president will be raising and what they will be hoping to achieve.


1. North Korea

Trump has blamed China for not doing enough to rein in North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme and the US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has called on Beijing to put pressure on Pyongyang.

US urges China to take ‘action’ against North Korea

Trump said in an interview with the Financial Times. “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.”

2. Trade

Trump has vowed to put American interests first in his policymaking and has blamed China for stealing jobs from the US. “We can no longer have massive trade deficits and job losses,” he tweeted last week. He is expected to address the US trade deficit with China at the summit. He could even warn that the US may label China a currency manipulator. The US had a US$347 billion trade deficit with China last year.

3. South China Sea

Even though the US does not claim waters in the region, the maritime disputes have become a point of confrontation between China and the US.

In the South China Sea, no sign of a thaw between China and the US

Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, initially suggested that China should have access barred to the man-made islands it has created in the South China Sea, but has since softened his rhetoric.

4. Infrastructure

Trump has said he wanted to create job opportunities for Americans and upgrade his nation’s infrastructure. He is expected to call on Xi to encourage more Chinese companies to take part in US infrastructure projects.


1) Getting to know Trump’s team

Beijing used to rely on the National Security Council and State Department officials to establish contacts with the US administration. However, as some of these officials are not in Trump’s inner circle, Beijing has made contact with Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Ivanka visit ‘shows China wants to forge close ties with Trump’

Observers say Beijing needs more points of contact beyond Ivanka and Kushner, and one main task for Xi is to find out who to trust in Trump’s team.

2) Trade and high-technology exports

Beijing officials have repeatedly warned against a trade war with the US and called on Washington not to label China a currency manipulator. It has also urged the US to relax restriction on exporting US technology to China.

3) Taiwan

Trump infuriated Beijing by accepting a phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in December and later questioned the validity of the decades-old “one-China” policy, which recognises Taiwan as part of China.

Chinese foreign minister brushes off Trump call with Tsai as ‘petty trick’ by Taiwan

Even though Trump later said the US would honour the policy, Xi is expected to try to play down the impact of Taiwan on Sino-US relations.

4) Future dialogue with the US

One of the key, regular points of contact between the two nations is the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue. However, critics from both nations have questioned the effectiveness of the talks, saying they lack focus on specific issues and that it is difficult to reach consensus with large delegations taking part in the discussions. Chinese officials always call for maintaining high level exchanges with the US and are expected to explore alternative ways of engaging Washington.