Syria missile strike may ease pressure on Xi-Trump summit, say analysts

Shift in public attention to Middle East will lift some expectations that Trump appear tough in negotiations with China’s president, according to observers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 April, 2017, 4:04pm
UPDATED : Friday, 07 April, 2017, 6:23pm

The US military strike against Syria has overshadowed the first face-to-face meeting between President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Donald Trump, but it may take the heat off the Trump administration to act tougher in talks with China, observers said.

The US attacked a Syrian airbase with a barrage of cruise missiles as Trump was hosting Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida on Thursday.

The strike was in response to suspected chemical attack against civilians in Syria.

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The strike diverted global attention away from the summit, in which the two leaders are expected to discuss North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme and trade disputes.

Trump has accused China of manipulating its currency value to give its exporters an unfair advantage and of failing to do enough to rein in Pyongyang.

Li Mingjiang, an associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said even though the summit had been overshadowed by the strike, it was not necessarily a bad thing for Beijing.

“With the attention shifting, it may be positive for the summit because public opinion pressure against China is diverted,” he said.

He added that controversies over trade and North Korea may be alleviated as attention in the US is deflected towards Syria.

“The meeting between Xi and Trump, supposed to be dominated by talks surrounding trade, North Korean and other tricky issues, could now be less thorny for discussions,” he said.

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Yuan Zheng, an American affairs expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said China would not be too concerned if attention drifted away from the summit because of the missile strikes.

“The issue of Syria is not the most pressing concern for China,” he said.

“China would only give a strong reaction if the US strike against North Korea, or sell arms to Taiwan.”