Donald Trump ‘pictured Xi Jinping as a woman’ to help pronounce his name before 2017 summit
Trump required ‘some tutoring’ with regard to the family name of his Chinese counterpart before their summit last year, White House expose claims
As Donald Trump pondered ways to revolutionise perhaps the world’s most crucial and complex diplomatic relationship last year he faced one major hurdle: he couldn’t pronounce the name of China’s leader, Xi Jinping.
The solution? Think of him as a woman.
That, according to Michael Wolff’s explosive insider account of Trump’s White House, is the advice aides gave the US president as he prepared for a crunch two-day summit with the Communist Party leader at his Mar-a-Lago estate in April last year.
Wolff’s book, obtained this week by The Guardian and set for publication on Friday, describes how Trump required “some tutoring” with regard to the family name of his Chinese counterpart, which is roughly pronounced “shee”. Not known for his linguistic talents, Trump was instead prone to call the leader of the world’s No 2 economy “Mr X-i”.
To avoid such gaffes during Xi’s visit, “the president was told to think of him as a woman and call him ‘she’,” Wolff claims in Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.
Watch: China-US relations in the Trump era
By Wolff’s telling, Trump’s Mandarin lesson – and his bid to impress Xi with his palm-dotted estate – paid off: “[The Chinese] were in an agreeable mood, evidently willing to humour Trump. And they quickly figured out that if you flatter him, he flatters you.”
US-China tensions cooled after the Florida conclave. Trump, who had repeatedly assailed Beijing during his presidential campaign, hailed the start of “a very, very great relationship”.
Wolff’s revelation recalls a sketch from Spitting Image, the 1980s satirical puppet show, in which aides struggle to teach Ronald Reagan how to pronounce Mikhail Gorbachev’s name using picture boards featuring images of a mouth, a sheep and a chef with a plate of tongues. “Remember Mr President, it’s Gob … Baa … Chef,” Reagan, who fails to catch on, is told. “Mouth … sheep … tongue … Gee, isn’t he that Chinese guy?” he replies.
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China makes several cameos in Wolff’s book. In one section, Trump is quoted as complaining: “If we have to be in Afghanistan … why can’t we make money off it? China has mining rights, but not the United States.”
Elsewhere, Wolff reports how Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, initially became “the driver of the Trump doctrine” and made China, Mexico, Canada and Saudi Arabia foreign policy “test cases”: “He offered each country the opportunity to make his father-in-law happy.”
Xi, who recently honoured Trump with a “state-visit plus”, has been trying.