President Trump is about to have one of the most important meetings of his career. The President will meet with his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, at Mar-a-Lago on April 6-7. This long-awaited meeting comes on the heels of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s March visit to Asia. Liberty Nation discussed the implications of that visit, and it now appears that Secretary Tillerson’s chickens are coming home to roost.
Tillerson’s Pan-Asia Tour ’17 was not the pyrotechnic laser rock show that many expected. More reminiscent of a folk singer playing Bob Dylan in a half-empty bar, Tillerson’s visit to China was hailed as a success…for China. By leaving Beijing with an agreement for U.S.-Chinese cooperation on North Korea, and a tabling (at least temporarily) of thornier economic and policy issues, Secretary Tillerson now leaves the President in a diplomatic bind.
President Trump is about to face a man who cannot afford to lose. China is approaching a major leadership change later this year as the Communist Party of China holds its National Congress. Xi Jinping is not only the President of the People’s Republic of China but also the General Secretary of the Communist Party’s Central Committee. As Commie-in-Charge, failure at this summit would prove potentially disastrous to President Xi and his factional allies within the party.
Not only has his party backed President Xi into a corner, but President Trump also spent almost the entirety of his campaign putting himself at odds with China, accusing them of currency manipulation and other forms of economic tomfoolery. The administration’s reactions to Chinese missile installations and their calls for greater Chinese involvement in the North Korea crisis have also put the White House at odds with Beijing. This makes any potential negotiation exceedingly difficult.
What we are about to see is the truest possible test of President Trump’s self-proclaimed and highly regarded negotiating prowess. Unfortunately, the President’s recent tactic of golf-course diplomacy will not work here. Although the ban was lifted in 2016, party officials were barred from the tee box under President Xi’s anti-corruption campaign.
Unable to exert fairway dominance, President Trump will be forced to iron out his differences with President Xi the old-fashioned way, through the bare-knuckle war of words. So what can we expect and what are Liberty Nation’s predictions?
As the first real test of his diplomatic skills, President Trump needs to look for a win here. Unfortunately, given President Xi’s political position, there isn’t much room for one. President Trump already suffered a loss when he walked back from his promise to review the One China policy and the U.S. relationship with Taiwan. That reversal not only gave China an edge but also made President Trump look like most presidents before him. Talk tough about China at the start, only to back off later.
To achieve any semblance of his economic and strategic goals with China, President Trump must deftly pivot around one of the key topics of the summit: North Korea. While troubling, the most recent North Korean missile launch plays right into the President’s hands. It punctuates the need for cooperation between the United States and China and provides President Trump with a bargaining chip.
The White House has recently commented that the United States is willing to act alone if China does not take a larger role in reining in North Korea. This, clearly, is frustrating to the Chinese leadership and potentially threatening not only to the safety and security of the region but of China’s political and strategic capital within the area. These comments also serve as important posturing for the negotiations ahead.
Publicly, both leaders will put on a brave face while appearing cordial and diplomatic. Behind closed doors, President Trump will likely attempt to trade a calmer and cooler U.S. response to North Korea in exchange for economic cooperation (and potential renegotiation of trade agreements) on the part of the Chinese. Any strategy in dealing with North Korea needs Chinese involvement.
By cooling our jets and allowing China to deal with North Korea their way, both presidents claim a victory. President Trump can say that China is going to do their part and take more responsibility, and President Xi can tell his supporters back home that he talked the U.S. President down from a ledge. Any economic agreements made after that are in “the nature of cooperation and good will” between the two countries.
While it would be fair to suggest that nothing of face value significance will happen from this meeting, the U.S. and Chinese presidents will undoubtedly lay the foundation for such an agreement. This win-win is the only real solution to continuing a productive relationship between our two nations. As the United States’ major strategic competition globally, the relationship we have with China will always be two-faced.
The next few days at Mar-a-Lago will be crucial not only to this relationship but also to President Trump’s success as Commander-in-Chief. Can he score under par, or will this meeting prove to be a double-bogie?