These Are the Dealmakers Behind Donald Trump and Xi Jinping

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One president pledging to “make America great again.” Another pushing his “Chinese dream.” Together, Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping oversee about one-third of the world’s economy, a quarter of its trade and two of its most powerful militaries. So whether their negotiating teams set a path toward cooperation or confrontation carries huge consequences.

While it’s impossible to precisely pair up the key players in these vastly different political systems, here’s a look at some of the men (and they are all men) shaping decisions:

The Big Picture

Xi Jinping
Xi Jinping
President, 64
China’s most powerful leader in decades promoted his “Chinese Dream” of wealth and power long before Trump’s “America First”
Donald Trump
Donald Trump
President, 71
Billionaire developer-turned-populist made China-bashing a campaign fixture, but has since shown more restraint
Li Keqiang
Li Keqiang
Premier, 61
China’s No. 2, who holds a Ph.D in economics, spearheaded efforts to push Chinese manufacturing up the value chain
Mike Pence
Mike Pence
Vice President, 58
Conservative ex-Indiana governor lent Trump establishment credentials and has helped pushed China on North Korea
Wang Huning
Wang Huning
Policy Research Director , 61
Politburo member is Xi’s top political theorist and foreign-policy guru, having advised his two immediate predecessors
Steve Bannon
Steve Bannon
Chief Strategist, 63
Self-described “economic nationalist” and fierce critic of globalism last year predicted a war over the South China Sea
Li Zhanshu
Li Zhanshu
Chief of Staff, 66
Holds posts on the party’s Politburo and National Security Commission and often accompanies Xi on overseas trips
Jared Kushner
Jared Kushner
Senior Adviser, 36
Trump’s son-in-law has emerged as a broker in U.S.-China ties and is seen as a moderating voice overall

Trump’s surprise election victory propelled into the White House a cast of officials skeptical of free trade and advisers who have endorsed a more robust challenge to China’s growing military might. Across the table sits Xi’s team of career Communist Party officials increasingly willing to push back against U.S. dominance, especially in Asia.

China Exports

U.S. Exports

21%

10%

go to U.S.

go to China

While Trump has heaped praise on Xi since their first Florida meeting in April, calling him a “very good man,” the two sides face a host of thorny trade disputes and security issues such as North Korea. Trump is backed by a largely untested group of self-professed nationalists like Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, who once predicted war over the South China Sea, and businessmen-turned-officials such as Wilbur Ross, who has assailed China’s “protectionist” trade practices.

Chinese officials have chosen to engage Trump, launching talks on trade without giving up ground on regional security concerns. Xi has relied on veteran diplomats such as Yang Jiechi to build relationships with perceived moderates such as Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, while his premier, Li Keqiang, carries abroad the president’s warnings against harmful trade wars.

Economics

The two economies are so intertwined, historian Niall Ferguson and economist Moritz Schularick dubbed them “Chimerica” more than a decade ago. In this loop, American shoppers snap up cheap, Chinese-made widgets while the massive trade surpluses that result are funneled back into Treasuries. That keeps the yuan weak, U.S. borrowing costs low and ensures that cash registers keep ringing on both sides of the Pacific.

Liu He
Liu He
Economic and Financial Policy Adviser, 65
Harvard-educated academic is believed to be Xi’s closest economic adviser and heads a key party policy panel
Gary Cohn
Gary Cohn
National Economic Council Director , 56
Former Goldman Sachs president emerged early as Trump’s go-to guy on regulation, infrastructure and the economy
Wang Yang
Wang Yang
Vice Premier, 62
China’s affable vice premier oversees trade, financial and economic policies, as well as top exchanges with the U.S.
Steven Mnuchin
Steven Mnuchin
Treasury Secretary, 54
Ex-Goldman banker and fair-trade proponent led U.S. efforts at G-20 to drop language opposing protectionism
Zhong Shan
Zhong Shan
Minister of Commerce, 61
New commerce minister brings experience as China’s top trade representative and previously worked with Xi
Wilbur Ross
Wilbur Ross
Commerce Secretary, 79
Billionaire investor called China the world’s “most protectionist” major nation and vowed tougher enforcement
Miao Wei
Miao Wei
Industry and Information Technology Minister, 62
Turnaround expert helped lead the “Made in China” industrial policies that foreign companies blame for shutting them out
Robert Lighthizer
Robert Lighthizer
Trade Representitive, 69
Former U.S. trade lawyers sees World Trade Organization remedies as insufficient to force policy changes by China

Trump wants to reshape the U.S.-Chinese economic relationship and has suggested American companies find alternatives to a system he blames for job losses and a trade deficit with China of almost $350 billion last year.

China’s Yuan Has Been Weakening

 

1/2/2014

1USD = 6.050CNY

5/31/2017

1USD = 6.817CNY

Since Xi visited his Mar-a-Lago resort, Trump has set aside campaign threats to hit China with steep tariffs and brand the country a currency manipulator. Both sides have tasked teams including U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang to reach agreement on a host of trade disputes by mid-July.

How long the trade detente can last is unclear. The current set up works pretty well for Xi, who told global elites gathered in Davos, Switzerland, in January that, “waging a trade war will only cause injury and loss to both sides.” His options: Open up closed services industries like insurance and telecommunications, or shrug off U.S. demands and expand trade elsewhere.

Xi also needs access to the world’s biggest economy to keep his country producing higher-value goods. Programs such as the Made-in-China initiative overseen by Industry and Information Technology Minister Miao Wei aim to expand manufacturing in new fields like robots, machine tools and medical devices by 2025.

Security

Even before Trump’s win, experts have been predicting more confrontation over security in the Asia-Pacific region, where China’s military build-up is challenging more than 70 years of U.S. dominance.

Fang Fenghui
Fang Fenghui
Central Military Commission Chief of Joint Staff, 66
Member of China’s elite Central Military Commission has blamed the U.S.’s “rebalance to Asia” for raising tensions
James Mattis
James Mattis
Secretary of Defense, 66
Ex-general advocates diplomatic solutions in the South China Sea while accusing Beijing of “shredding” its neighbors trust
Yang Jiechi
Yang Jiechi
State Councillor, 67
The old America hand of Xi’s team, Yang spent much of his career in the U.S. before becoming China’s top diplomat
Rex Tillerson
Rex Tillerson
Secretary of State, 65
Former Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO struck an accomodating tone in Beijing while urging China to squeeze North Korea
Wang Yi
Wang Yi
Minister of Foreign Affairs, 63
The smooth diplomatic operator served as Japan envoy and managed Taiwan affairs, two U.S. allies that depend on U.S. security aid
H.R. McMaster
H.R. McMaster
National Security Adviser, 54
General who coordinates Trump’s security policy compared China’s actions in the South China Sea to Russia’s moves in Ukraine
Cui Tiankai
Cui Tiankai
Ambassador, 64
Career diplomat served at the UN and in Japan before the U.S. and helped open communications with Trump’s team
Terry Branstad
Terry Branstad
Ambassador Nominee, 70
Long-time Iowa governor and “old friend of China’’ has kept in touch with Xi since meeting him in the mid-1980s

While disputes over China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea continue to simmer, Trump’s early tenure has been preoccupied with North Korea and getting Xi to pressure the country back to the negotiating table. Months of promises of cooperation from Chinese officials such as Foreign Minister Wang Yi have so far produced little, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson renewed calls for action during a visit to Australia this month.

China's Military Budget Is Now Second Only to the U.S.'s

No. 1

$606B

U.S.

No. 2

$226B

3

4

5

6

7

Spending speeds up after tensions over Taiwan show U.S. air and naval superiority

8

8

9

9

11

13

No. 13

China

1991

1993

1995

1997

1999

2001

2003

2005

2007

2009

2011

2013

2015

China's Military Budget Is Now Second Only to the U.S.'s

No. 1

$606B

U.S.

No. 2

$226B

3

4

5

6

7

Spending speeds up after tensions over Taiwan show U.S. air and naval superiority

8

8

9

9

11

13

No. 13

China

1991

1993

1995

1997

1999

2001

2003

2005

2007

2009

2011

2013

2015

China's Military Budget Is Now Second Only to the U.S.'s

No. 1

$606B

U.S.

No. 2

$226B

3

4

5

6

7

Spending speeds up after tensions over Taiwan show U.S. air and naval superiority

8

8

9

9

11

13

No. 13

China

2016

1991

China's Military Budget Is Now

Second Only to the U.S.'s

U.S.

No. 1

$606B

No. 2

$226B

3

4

5

6

7

Spending speeds up after tensions over Taiwan show U.S. air and naval superiority

8

8

9

9

11

13

China

1991

2016

Looming in the background is Chinese concern that Trump might consider expanded ties with Taiwan, which China considers a province. Defense Secretary James Mattis’s unusually direct pledge during a speech in Singapore this month to protect Taiwan was a sign that early rapport between Trump and Xi might not deter greater U.S. support for the democratically ruled—and strategically located—island.

(A previous version of this article was corrected to clarify Foreign Minister Wang Yi's past role regarding Taiwan.)