Trump, Xi begin high-stakes talks
North Korea’s weapons, trade deficit, ‘one-China policy’ on agenda
President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping began high-stakes talks in Florida facing each other across a dinner table Thursday, connecting on a personal level before getting down to tense discussions about trade and the nuclear threat from North Korea.
The leaders of the world’s two largest economies dined with their wives at Mr. Trump’s Mara-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, where the meeting will continue Friday.
Mr. Trump headed into the talks with the same get-tough rhetoric on trade he used on the campaign trail, and he’s under pressure to deliver the same blunt message to Mr. Xi, despite the risk of angering a country that holds a large portion of U.S. debt.
“We have been treated unfairly and have made terrible trade deals with China for many, many years. That’s one of the things we are going to be talking about,” Mr. Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Florida.
The White House has discouraged expectations for major breakthroughs on trade, although the president has made shrinking the huge trade deficit with China a top priority.
Still, the blue-collar voters who helped to put Mr. Trump in the White House will be looking for him to squeeze trade concessions out of Mr. Xi.
It’s a tall order, and the president’s Democratic foes already were calling the summit a failure.
“Despite Trump promising voters that he would stand up to China and that they would agree to his demands or face the consequences, so far he has failed to make good on two key steps he promised to take immediately upon taking office: Declare China a currency manipulator and impose a tariff on Chinese imports,” said Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Adrienne Watson.
“What other promises will he back down from this weekend after 13 weeks on the job?” she asked.
Mr. Trump also promised to press Mr. Xi on reining in unpredictable, nuclear-armed North Korea, which is working on an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S.
“I think China will be stepping up,” Mr. Trump said of China’s influence over North Korea, echoing an unrealized goal of many former U.S. presidents.
The meetings take places against a backdrop of rising tension across the globe, including North Korean missile tests and a deadly chemical weapon attack in Syria.
The Chinese president, whose reserved and calculating style contrasts sharply with Mr. Trump’s brash persona, will be pushing his own agenda, including Beijing’s interest in territorial disputes in the heavily trafficked waters off China’s coasts.
Mr. Xi also will be looking for Mr. Trump to reiterate his commitment to the “one-China policy,” which recognizes democratic Taiwan as a part of communist China, after Mr. Trump sent mixed messages about after the election.
“Ensuring President Xi does not lose face is a top priority for China,” a Chinese official told Reuters.
Mr. Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, arrived in a black limousine, a military color guard lining the club’s driveway. They were greeted at the door by Mr. Trump and first lady Melania Trump.
About 30 people attended the formal dinner at Mar-a-Lago, including about a dozen dignitaries from the U.S. and China.
The menu offered an option of pan-seared Dover sole with champagne sauce or dry-aged prime New York strip steak. Dessert options were chocolate cake with vanilla sauce and dark chocolate sorbet, or a sorbet trio of lemon, mango and raspberry.
U.S. officials at the dinner included Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, White House adviser Ivanka Trump and White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon.
Mr. Tillerson, who greeted Mr. Xi at the airport, said that Mr. Trump would pursue his Americafirst agenda at the meetings.
“We will pursue economic engagement with China that prioritizes the economic well-being of the American people. We’re also looking to make progress with China on areas of foreign policy. Those that serve our interest as well as the regions,” he said.
Mr. Tillerson said the administration “remains dedicated to working with China toward mutual goals of respect, security and prosperity. As we do so, we will not shy away from frank discussions which are necessary to narrow our differences.”
The meetings Friday at Mar-a-Lago will be capped by a working lunch, according to the White House.
President Trump met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Palm Beach, Florida. Blue-collar voters are pressuring Mr. Trump to deliver on his trade deals.