China Ignores Trump's Twitter Barb Ahead of First Xi Meeting

  • Foreign ministry official says summit a ‘new starting point’
  • Trump blames China for job losses ahead of ‘difficult’ meeting

Trump Holds Call With China's XI, Honors One-China Policy

China ignored a Twitter outburst from Donald Trump one week before his first meeting with Xi Jinping, calling the event a “new starting point” for ties between the world’s biggest economies.

Foreign ministry officials deflected questions about Trump’s latest China criticism at a briefing in Beijing on Friday to discuss the April 6-7 summit at his Mar-a-Lago club, in Palm Beach, Florida. The news conference came just two hours after Trump took to Twitter to blame the country for U.S. trade deficits and job losses, saying the meeting “will be a very difficult one.”

“The two countries are looking forward to a successful meeting so that a correct direction can be set for the stable growth of bilateral relations in the context of the international economic situation,” Vice Minister Zheng Zeguang told reporters.

The difference in tone sets the stage for a contentious first meeting between leaders with conflicting agendas. Trump is eager to portray toughness against a nation he routinely criticized on the campaign trail for stealing American jobs with unfair trade practices, while Xi wants to show he commands the respect befitting of a rising global power.

China is the U.S.’s biggest trading partner, and enjoys the largest surplus in the trade of goods -- $347 billion last year, almost half of the U.S. total. Still, the country is among the top three export markets for 33 American states.

Trade Abuses

Trump on Friday will order a comprehensive study to identify every form of “trade abuse” that contributes to U.S. deficits with foreign countries. Peter Navarro, director of the White House National Trade Council and author of a book with “Death by China” in the title, dismissed questions about whether the orders should be read as a warning to the nation.

“Nothing we’re saying tonight is about China,” Navarro said at a Thursday evening briefing for White House reporters that began barely 15 minutes after Trump’s tweets on China. “Let’s not make this a story about China. This is a story about trade abuses.”

During his campaign, Trump decried the trade imbalance and raised concern over China’s military expansion to assert territorial claims. Yet tensions have eased of late, particularly after Trump agreed to honor the decades-old One-China policy concerning Taiwan in a phone call with Xi last month.

Click here to read more about the One-China policy

Fu Mengzi, vice president of the State Security Ministry-backed China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said that leaders in Beijing would continue their policy of “strategic composure” when dealing with Trump. While actual negotiations will be tough, he said, “the summit provides more opportunity than risk.”

“He was also talking to the Congress and those people who voted for him,” Fu said of Trump’s tweet. “It would be of no use to get lost in some trivial war of words. We’ll still need to stay level-headed.”

Zheng, the vice foreign minister, said the two sides should implement the early consensus reached in February, when Xi spoke with Trump on the phone. Sensitive issues should be handled “constructively,” said Zheng, adding that China also wanted to bring greater balance in two-way trade.

The timing of the meeting appears tricky, with a U.S. review of China’s market-economy status under the World Trade Organization expected to be announced as early as this week. Also, South Korean intelligence warned Wednesday that North Korea could conduct its sixth nuclear bomb test in the first week of April to “overshadow” the summit.

Missile Defense

The two countries are seeking common ground on efforts to curb North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which has been alarming U.S. allies in the region. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said earlier this month the meeting would seek to “defuse tensions over North Korea and the recent deployment” of the first stages of the U.S. Army’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system in South Korea.

Ni Shixiong, a professor at Fudan University’s Center for American Studies in Shanghai, said Thursday that the talks may push Trump to clarify his positions on key issues regarding China, including Taiwan and North Korea.

“It’s better to meet earlier than late from a strategic perspective -- especially an earlier meeting can help shape his China policy,” Ni said. “They will discuss things broadly rather than get bogged down down in details.”

— With assistance by Joe Sobczyk, and Peter Martin

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