The Xi-Trump summit has laid a firm foundation for future ties

Talk of friendship and pledges to deepen relations are to the benefit of all, and rewards will follow

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 April, 2017, 12:43am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 April, 2017, 12:43am

Everything is difficult at the beginning, a matter-of-fact Chinese saying goes. That was certainly the case before President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Donald Trump started their two-day summit at the American leader’s Florida estate. But after dinner, social time and seven hours of talks, during which they got to know and understand one another better, months of uncertainty for China were largely removed and replaced by ways to cooperate and handle challenges. It is proof of the pragmatism that is bound to arise when the world’s two major economies realise the benefits to be had from working together.

Beijing has always understood that great power rivalry is best dealt with through mutually beneficial ties that centre on win-win cooperation. Xi pointed that out to Trump, laying out the importance of combined effort in areas like the economy, security and exchanges of people. A call for the US to join China in its “One Belt, One Road” trade expansion initiative was in keeping with that sentiment. The two leaders agreed to head a new comprehensive dialogue mechanism built on four core issues: economics, diplomacy and security, law and cyber security, and society and culture.

Summit with Trump sends a message home for Xi

But there are also problem areas, the most immediate being the trade imbalance and dealing with North Korea’s nuclear proliferation. A 100-day plan to deal with trade was unveiled, although no details were given and it is clear that settling so complex an issue in such a short time will be a challenge. On North Korea there would seem to be continued disagreement. There is also the matter of the disputed waters of the East and South China seas, which were discussed and are bound to remain contentious.

But while Trump had taken a tough line on China before the meeting with his “America first” policy, he now realises that pragmatism is in his country’s interests. There was apparently no mention during the meeting of the divisive issue of Taiwan, but instead pledges of deepening ties, with the American president hailing “tremendous progress” in Sino-US relations and speaking glowingly of the friendship he had developed with Xi. His grandchildren Arabella Kushner, five, and her brother Joseph, three, stole Chinese hearts by singing in Chinese the traditional folk tune Jasmine Flower, a song made popular by first lady Peng Liyuan. For Xi, the talks were “positive and fruitful”.

Those are the signals that Chinese and Americans and people elsewhere need and want of the world’s most important economic and diplomatic relationship. A firm foundation has been laid and with further good communication and coordination, benefits can be reaped and differences bridged.