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Donald Trump

China shuts down Forbidden City in top-level personal welcome for the Trumps

Unprecedented red-carpet treatment meant to underscore the working friendship between the two leaders, observers say

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 November, 2017, 4:18pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 November, 2017, 6:32pm

US President Donald Trump arrived in Beijing on Wednesday afternoon for a state visit meant to maximise personal interaction between two of the world’s most powerful leaders.

Beijing is billing the trip as a “state visit-plus”, a term it has not used for any foreign leader since the Communist Party took power in 1949.

Trump is accompanied by his wife Melania and a delegation of dozens of business leaders.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the “state visit-plus” red-carpet welcome was in return for the “warm, considerate reception and the high standard and thoughtful arrangement” the Trumps made for Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan in Florida in April.

The Trumps started the visit with a trip to the Forbidden City in downtown Beijing, where they had tea with Xi and Peng before touring the former imperial palace.

The World Heritage Site was closed to the public and security tightened for the visit.

The two couples watched a Peking opera performance in the Forbidden City before having dinner together.

On Thursday, the US president will attend a series of events at the Great Hall of the People next to Tiananmen Square before going to a state a banquet in his honour. On Friday Melania will go to the Beijing Zoo and visit a section of Great Wall in suburban Beijing in the afternoon before the couple leave for Vietnam.

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Diplomatic protocol for a state visit usually involves a set programme of activities for the host and the visitor, but Trump’s “state visit-plus” status could mean more interaction between the two leaders, which would “not only strengthen personal relationships but also facilitate communication”, a diplomatic source in Beijing said.

“The personal communication between top leaders is very important,” the source said.

“Since Trump took office, the interaction between Trump and Xi has gone very well, and the working relationship has been established … which also offered a good basis on which to arrange a ‘state visit-plus’ for Trump.”

Lu Peixin, a former Chinese foreign ministry chief in charge of protocol, also said the activities arranged for Trump could “go beyond the receptions of a usual state visit”, reflecting ties between the two countries and the two leaders.

Diplomatic observers in China said that through the less-formal activities Beijing hoped to highlight the “personal friendship and working relations” between Xi and Trump in the past few months.

Wu Xinbo, director of the Centre for American Studies at Fudan University, said family was a key element of Xi’s visit to Mar-a-Lago in Florida in April.

“Three generations of the Trump family met Xi, which was very personal,” Wu said.

He said the tea stop during the Forbidden City tour was meant to highlight “the friendship and working relations between Xi and Trump”.

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“This is not something official but ... to reflect the personal relations between the two,” Wu said.

Lu Xiang, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the “plus” would be mostly in terms of the courtesy Beijing wanted to show the US president despite their disputes over trade and North Korea.

“The idea of a ‘state visit-plus’ itself is a plus to China-US relations as it is all new ... Now it seems that the visit by Trump will be higher than the highest level visit,” Lu said.

“The personal relationship between the two leaders is good and now China is more confident of welcoming by a US president than before.”

Additional reporting by Kristin Huang