China-US relations

Donald Trump gets red-carpet welcome in Beijing but tough tests ahead on trade and North Korea

US president the first foreign leader to be treated to dinner in the Forbidden City as Xi plays up personal ties with US counterpart

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 November, 2017, 11:14pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 November, 2017, 11:43am

Beijing rolled out the red carpet and billions in business deals as US President Donald Trump embarked on his first state visit to China on Wednesday.

But the real test of the three-day trip will come with talks on trade and North Korea.

Ending the first day with a private dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Forbidden City in the heart of the capital, Trump was given a more high-profile welcome than usual.

At around 10.30pm, Trump thanked his hosts by tweeting: “Melania and I, THANK YOU for an unforgettable afternoon and evening at the Forbidden City in Beijing, President Xi and Madame Peng Liyuan. We are looking forward to rejoining you tomorrow morning!”

As the presidents toured the World Heritage Site in the afternoon, US$9 billion in business deals – ranging from beef to aviation – were signed between Chinese companies and the US business delegation led by US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Yang said the contracts were just a “warm-up” and there would be more “good things” on Thursday.

But a White House official said the United States was also looking for China to cut more financial ties with its nuclear neighbour North Korea.

Pyongyang’s nuclear programme is expected to dominate talks between the two leaders on Thursday afternoon.

China’s trade surplus with US hits second highest on record ahead of Trump’s visit

Trump and Xi are also expected to discuss the bilateral trade imbalance – just hours before the two leaders met, China posted trade data showing that its trade surplus with the US in October was US$26.6 billion, its second-highest on record.

Despite the tensions between the two countries, Trump’s trip to China is the first to be described by Beijing as a “state visit-plus”, with the foreign ministry highlighting more “informal interactions” between the leaders.

The added status given to the visit is in return for Trump’s focus on his personal relations with Xi after the two leaders met for the first time in Florida in April.

Trump and his wife Melania were greeted at Beijing’s airport by flag-waving Chinese children as well as State Councillor Yang Jiechi, a former Chinese ambassador to Washington.

The Trumps then headed to the Forbidden City in downtown Beijing where they were welcomed by Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan in matching grey coats.

The couples had tea as Trump showed Xi videos of his granddaughter Arabella Kushner singing and reciting Chinese poems in Mandarin. Xi complimented the child, saying she gave an “A-plus” performance.

Trump’s granddaughter plays diplomat once more as she sings for ‘Grandpa’ Xi Jinping

Xi then congratulated Trump on what is nearly his first full year in the US presidency and Trump applauded Xi for the renewal of his leadership at the Communist Party’s national congress last month.

During the tour of the Forbidden City, Xi told Trump that he believed the visit would “achieve positive and important results”, Xinhua reported.

“The two leaders [also] exchanged views on governance and mutual concerns in the Sino-US relationship,” the report said.

After the tour, the Trumps watched young Peking opera students perform excerpts from three traditional works, including the Monkey King. The show ended with one student shouting: “Welcome to China! I love you”, before Trump and the performers shook hands.

After a private dinner with Xi and Peng, the Trumps headed for the five-star St Regis Beijing.

Thursday will bring a welcome in Trump’s honour at the Great Hall of the People and a series of other official events, including a state dinner that night.

Before leaving the US on his 12-day Asia-Pacific trip, Trump vowed to cut the trade deficit with China, which last year stood at US$347 billion.

Trump has also said he wants China to fully implement United Nations sanctions against North Korea, and is expected to press Xi to force North Korea to engage in credible nuclear talks.

What China wants from Donald Trump in return for deals that will help him cut the US trade deficit

On Friday Melania will go to the Beijing Zoo and visit a section of the Great Wall in suburban Beijing before the couple leave for Vietnam. The Philippines will be the last stop on their 12-day trip.