China-US relations

China-US talks: What are the three things Donald Trump and Xi Jinping want most?

Three experts on international relations give their views on what the two presidents will be looking for when they meet on Thursday

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 November, 2017, 7:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 November, 2017, 2:22pm

Before setting off on his 12-day Asia-Pacific tour, US President Donald Trump made it clear what he wanted to discuss with the leaders of the five countries he planned to visit.

“We’ll be talking about trade … we’ll be talking about North Korea,” he said at the White House on Friday.

But while Trump appears to have it all mapped out, it has yet to be confirmed what topics are of main interest to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Trump is expected to arrive in China for a three-day visit on Wednesday and meet Xi the next day.

The South China Morning Post asked three international relations experts what they thought would be the big topics on the table in Beijing:

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What China wants from Trump’s visit

1. A clear statement from Washington on its view of Sino-US relations

“[Trade and North Korea] are on the US’ agenda for the meeting, [but] China has a different perspective,” Liu Weidong, a US affairs expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said.

“The US likes to deal with China by touching on very practical issues first and then developing strategic relations. But China wants the US to define the relationship first, before going into the details of how to resolve individual problems.”

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Liu said Trump had never been clear on how he saw China within the United States’ regional strategy. Also, unlike his predecessor Barack Obama, who stressed the need to build a peaceful strategic partnership, Trump had not set any mutual goals for the two countries, he said.

Zhang Zhexin, a research fellow at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said he expected the two leaders to issue a joint statement after their meeting, saying China and the US would establish a balanced economic partnership, expand the scope of their cooperation and work together to avoid conflict.

2. A reiteration of China’s “legitimate rights”

On the subject of Taiwan, Xi would again seek Trump’s acknowledgement of the “one China” policy as he did at their first meeting in April in Florida, Kerry Brown, a China expert at King’s College in London, said.

Xi was also likely to reiterate China’s claims in the South China Sea, and advise the US to maintain a low profile in the contested waterway, where China has already built several artificial islands, he said.

“China will also convey its view that the Pacific is a space for both China and America. It is not looking for the US to exit [the area] but there is no hierarchy among the two,” Brown said.

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3. Win-win trade relations

Xi said in his opening speech at the Communist Party’s congress last month that China would continue to open up its markets. However, the arrangement had to be mutually beneficial, Zhang said.

“China is ready to open up some of its markets to the US … its cultural and banking sectors, for example … as long as it is a win-win situation,” he said.

Beijing would not “give in to US trade requests easily”, as it had done in the first 10 months of Trump’s presidency by agreeing to US-led proposals on trade and North Korea, he said.

“China will not let the US blame it for the trade imbalance. It is likely that they will tell the US to fix its trade policies, and consider balancing the deficit by exporting its high value-added products to China,” Liu said.

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What the US wants from Trump’s trip

1. More balanced trade

Trump promised that during his talks with Xi he would help narrow the US$347 billion trade deficit the US has with China. Beside him on the visit will be US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross who will lead a trade delegation of 29 US companies.

“Trump will not go back to the US empty-handed, without any business deals or new trade agreements,” Zhang said.

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2. More commitment from China to resolve the North Korea issue

Zhang said the US wanted to see China actively pushing for a denuclearised North Korea and to fully abide by UN sanctions.

Liu, however, said Beijing was likely to take a different position.

“China wants to remain reactive on the North Korea issue,” he said. “If there are no further provocative acts from North Korea, then there also may not be any further action from the US and China.”

Liu said it was not clear if Xi and Trump would discuss the possibility of talks between the US and North Korea.

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3. A more stable relationship with China

Trump has played up his personal relationship with Xi since their first meeting, but still criticised Beijing on trade and North Korea.

Zhang said the US president was likely to seek greater stability with China in the interest of improving economic ties.

“Based on what the US needs from China in terms of achieving greater economic success, it is likely that Trump will keep his hands off the sensitive matters,” he said.

“Sino-US relations will only become more cooperative and less volatile.”