President Donald Trump, whose long-distance threats and insults toward North Korea have stoked fears of a nuclear confrontation, brought a message of reassurance to South Korea on Tuesday.
BEIJING — The two men smiled as they strolled amid the swaying palm trees. They dined on pan-seared Dover sole, aged prime strip steak and Sonoma Coast Chardonnay beneath glimmering chandeliers. They shared an antique sofa for the group photo with their wives.
President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping were calling each other friend by the end of their springtime retreat at Trump’s Florida club Mar-a-Lago, a relationship that would have been unimaginable months earlier. During his campaign, Trump complained Xi was “ripping us off,” threatened him with trade sanctions and vowed that the closest he would come to a state dinner was a trip to McDonald’s.
On Monday in Japan, Trump expressed his new view: “I like him a lot. I consider him a friend. With that being said, he represents China; I represent the United States.”
No DMZ visit: Plans for a surprise visit by President Donald Trump to the heavily fortified Korean Demilitarized Zone on Wednesday were thwarted by fog. Trump’s helicopter was forced to turn back to Seoul because of the fog near the border.
Defectors arrested: Ten North Koreans, including a 3-year-old boy and his mother, were arrested in China and face being deported to their totalitarian homeland, a rights activist in South Korea said Tuesday They left their home 10 days ago, said the activist, the Rev. Kim Seung-Eun, who helped them flee.
Seattle Times news services
Expect the good times to continue when Xi figuratively rolls out an ultrawide red carpet to host Trump in Beijing — a “state visit-plus” in the words of the Chinese ambassador to the United States.
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Trump, whose long-distance threats and insults toward North Korea have stoked fears of a nuclear confrontation, brought a message of reassurance to South Korea on Tuesday.
After a day of private meetings and public bonding with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, who was elected promising a shift toward dialogue with the North, Trump — who as recently as last month tweeted that direct talks were a “waste of time” — said Tuesday that it would be in the North’s interest to “come to the table and to make a deal.”
“I think we’re making a lot of progress, I think we’re showing great strength, I think they understand we have unparalleled strength,” Trump said of North Korea during a news conference at the presidential Blue House with Moon.
Trump, who visited with U.S. and South Korean troops at Camp Humphreys south of Seoul, noted that the U.S. military had positioned three aircraft carriers and a nuclear submarine in the Pacific.
Before leaving South Korea for Beijing, Trump said Xi “has been very helpful. We’ll find out how helpful soon. But he really has been very, very helpful.”
After arriving in China on Wednesday, Trump and first lady Melania Trump were to join Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, for tea, a tour of the ancient Forbidden City, an opera performance and dinner.
The Chinese, much like the Japanese and South Koreans on the first two stops of Trump’s five-nation Asia tour, believe the gilded treatment is the best way to play to Trump’s ego and disarm him, and thereby blunt his demands that China open up its economy and take a harder tack against North Korea, according to experts and former government officials.
Trump’s dynamic with Xi, however, is easily the most consequential of all his foreign relations, politically and diplomatically, given China’s greater prominence — its economy is second in size only to that of the United States — and its superpower aspirations and the centrality of Trump’s past China attacks to his election.
“The Chinese strategy will be to treat Trump with enormous respect and give him nothing,” said David Dollar, the U.S. Treasury Department’s economic and financial emissary to China from 2009 to 2013 and now a scholar at the Brookings Institution.
The Trump administration insists it is getting what the president wants from China, especially as the two nations work to further isolate North Korea in hopes of halting that provocative country’s drive toward nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles.
H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national-security adviser, told reporters before Trump left Washington last weekend, “What the president will do is build on what was already a very strong personal relationship that they developed at Mar-a-Lago.”
McMaster said China, North Korea’s patron and primary trading partner, understands the breadth of the threat that the North poses.
“In the old days, you’d hear, ‘Well, this is really a problem between, you know, North Korea and the United States,’” McMaster said. Now, he continued, “everyone acknowledges, China especially,” that “this is a problem between North Korea and the world.”
China has given the Trump administration some help in imposing tougher sanctions on North Korea through the United Nations, though it has not taken the unilateral actions against the North that Trump seeks. As for trade, most experts believe China has gotten off lightly.
Trump, during a news conference in Japan on Monday, said he would be working to alter the “very unfair trade situation” and promised “very, very strong action” against unnamed countries that he said were mistreating American workers. Yet, a year after his election, Trump was not specific about what he hoped to accomplish with Xi.
Analysts say Trump will need to strike a balance — continuing to treat Xi as a friend without compromising American interests or appearing too deferential. Their meeting comes at a time Xi would seem to have the advantage: While Trump is weakened by scandal, legislative setbacks and low poll ratings, China’s Communist Party recently granted Xi powers not seen since Chairman Mao Zedong’s rule a half-century ago.
“What the president needs to do is not come in and sort of anoint the pope,” said James Jay Carafano, a foreign-policy and defense specialist at the conservative Heritage Foundation who has advised Trump. “On the other hand, nobody wants the thing to melt down either.”
The Chinese are known to embarrass visitors if it suits their purpose, unsettling the guests and leaving them just a tad uncertain whether the treatment is deliberate.
During President Barack Obama’s first visit, his hosts assured him he would have opportunities to speak directly to the Chinese people, only to curtail his events. During his final visit, last year, Beijing airport staff failed to provide stairs to Air Force One’s familiar front exit door, forcing the president to disembark unceremoniously at the plane’s rear; former Obama aides insist the fault went no higher than the grounds crew.
Trump, however, repeatedly recalled the incident as a clear snub during his presidential campaign, to buttress his claim that under Obama, the United States had lost stature.
“I’ve got to tell you, if that were me, I would say, ‘You know what, folks, I respect you a lot but close the doors, let’s get out of here,’” Trump said during one campaign appearance. “It’s a sign of such disrespect.”
China experts expect Xi to avoid such actions this week. Trump showed during his first presidential trip abroad, to the Middle East, that he appreciates an opulent display of respect.
Trump’s own China diplomacy got off to a bad start. After the election, he took a call from Taiwan’s leader, offending Beijing and upending the decades-old “One China” formula under which the U.S. recognizes the Beijing government and agrees that Taiwan is part of China.
Once Trump took office, he backtracked, declining another call from the Taiwanese president.
Trump also backed off his repeated campaign threat to label China as a currency manipulator.