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China-US relations

‘Missed symbolic opportunity’ in cancelled Trump-Kushner China trip

But other US envoys can step into the breach to prepare for US president’s visit later this year, analysts say

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 September, 2017, 5:53pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 September, 2017, 10:45pm

The cancellation of a much-anticipated trip to China by the US president’s daughter and son-in-law is unlikely to affect ties between the two countries but it will be a missed symbolic opportunity.

Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, who are both White House advisers, were expected to visit Beijing this month to prepare for the US leader’s trip later this year. But the power couple’s trip appears to be off, with The New York Times reporting that Kushner did not accept an invitation from China.

Observers said the trip would have had symbolic value but the preparations for a summit in China would continue.

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Zhang Zhexin, a research fellow at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said Trump was still the key contact for strengthening ties with Washington.

“She’s the most direct and instant contact between both sides,” Zhang said. “She’s not in the institution, which gives her the greatest scope for action.”

But the couple could still easily plan another trip, he said.

Shen Dingli, a Sino-US relations specialist at Fudan University, agreed that the couple could promote bilateral cooperation but many other people, including US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and US Secretary of Defence James Mattis, could play a similar role.

“Letting these senior officials serve as a bridge is far more important than having the [US president’s] daughter and son-in-law visit,” he said.

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Nevertheless, the symbolism of personal meetings was very significant for maintaining ties with China, said Eduardo Araral, from the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

“It’s important because obviously Ivanka and [Kushner] are trusted by the [US] president, and the president can convey the message to them,” Araral said. “In terms of building personal relations and getting to know each other, I think that it’s very important for China to have face-to-face meetings rather than phone calls.”

Kushner reportedly played a significant part in arranging the first meeting between the US and Chinese presidents in Florida in April, and Trump is popular in China for her poised image and Putonghua-speaking daughter.

Other links between the couple and China have attracted criticism – Trump’s clothing company has applied for trademarks in China, and products branded with her name have been manufactured by Chinese companies.

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Kushner’s family has also come under attack for touting a visa programme to raise funds from Chinese investors for a real estate project.

When asked about arrangements for the couple last week, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said only that “China and the US have maintained close communication and exchange at various levels”.

Chinese internet users netizens were split on the impact of the cancellation.

On his microblog, influential blogger An Puruo posted a cartoon of the couple acting as a bridge between the two presidents.

Another internet user said: “We welcome you if you come. If you don’t, the world will keep spinning.”