Washington: US President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping are weighing a meeting that could take place at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida as soon as next month, with the goal of reducing tensions over North Korea, people familiar with the matter said.
The potential summit is likely to come up during secretary of state Rex Tillerson’s visit to China this week as the countries work to agree on dates and an agenda, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Monday. The summit could come as soon as April, said another administration official, who insisted on anonymity to discuss plans that aren’t finalized.
“Planning is ongoing for a visit between President Trump and President Xi at a date to be determined,” Spicer told reporters at his daily briefing, saying “we’re not ready to confirm” more details.
Xi plans an informal visit to Trump’s oceanfront club, with the details to be set during talks with Tillerson, according to a person familiar with the matter. The summit has proved difficult to arrange because some members of the Chinese government resist the idea of having Trump host their symbolic first meeting, said the person, who asked not to be named discussing internal deliberations.
While any summit between the world’s two largest economies would likely cover a broad range of topics of mutual concern, Spicer said the purpose of the meeting now under discussion would be to “defuse tensions over North Korea and the recent deployment” of the first stages of the US Army’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defence anti-missile system in South Korea.
North Korea’s recent missile launches have added new urgency to concerns both countries have over the destabilizing impact of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.
Trump entered office highlighting grievances with Beijing including the US trade deficit with China, charges that China is manipulating its currency and concern over the country’s military expansion to back its territorial claims in disputed maritime areas.
“Both the planning and the pageantry of the meeting will be a test of the Trump administration’s ability to work with Chinese counterparts,” said Graham Webster, a senior fellow at Yale Law School’s China Center. “If the US side is leaking sensitive diplomatic arrangements before the two sides are ready to go, Chinese officials have the right to be concerned about other potential unexpected disclosures or hiccups in a sensitive first summit between Xi and Trump.”
Xi was likely to seek further reassurances from Trump that he would continue US support for the One-China policy, under which Taiwan isn’t recognized as a sovereign nation, said Fu Mengzi, vice president of the state security ministry-backed China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
Trump broke diplomatic norms in December by accepting a phone call from the president of Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province. Trump backed down during an early February phone call with Xi and agreed to honour the One-China policy, which the US has followed for decades.
A summit would be a “positive sign” for relations between the two countries, Fu said.
“It’s imperative that China establish top-level direct dialogue with the new US president as soon as possible because Trump’s China policy is still in the formation,” Fu said. “An early summit can help set the tone for a still unfolding bilateral relationship.” Bloomberg
—With assistance from Ting Shi David Tweed and Keith Zhai.