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Foreign Policy

Trickle-Down Diplomacy

Nov 14 , 2017
  • Su Xiaohui

    Deputy Director of Int'l & Strategic Studies, CIIS


President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping arrive for an opera performance at the Forbidden City on Wednesday in Beijing. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

On November 8, U.S. President Donald Trump paid a state visit to China. This was the first state visit China received after the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th National Congress, as well as Trump’s first state visit to China since taking office. This visit was an opportunity for the two heads of states to draw the blueprint for bilateral ties in the coming years.

Certain tensions underlay these two meetings. The White House had announced that Trump would discuss ways to keep up its pressure on the DPRK and would “stress the unsustainability of China’s unfair trade practices that have produced a massive trade deficit.” It seemed the United States was set on making China compromise on security and economic issues, something the latter would likely have resisted.

Fortunately, both presidents were able to reach consensus on a wide range of issues, and managed a soft landing on some points of contention.

Both leaders attached great importance to the development of bilateral ties. Trump congratulated Xi on the successful conclusion of the 19th Congress and on his re-election as General Secretary of the CCP Central Committee. Trump praised China’s economic achievements, and Xi briefed him on the outcome of the Congress.

During Trump’s visit, Xi reciprocated the hospitality the US president and the first family showed him at Mar-a-Lago in April. Both heads of state and their wives had afternoon tea in the Baoyun Building (the Building of Embodied Treasures) of the Forbidden City and visited the three front halls of the Forbidden City. They even watched Peking Opera. Trump was so impressed that he even changed his Twitter banner to a photograph of the two couples during the Peking opera. This introduction to Chinese culture will give Trump a better understanding of China.

The United States has realized that no country can contain China’s development. The rest of the world has to accommodate China’s rising power and international influence, and choose cooperation over conflict. At the same time, China values its relationship with the US. President Xi and President Trump reiterated that their countries have extensive shared interests and responsibilities in upholding world peace, stability, and prosperity. The Sino-U.S. relationship affects the rest of the world. Accordingly, the heads of states stressed that cooperation is the only right choice.

Xi and Trump’s visits also promoted dialogue mechanisms between their countries. At the Mar-a-Lago meeting, they established a high-level framework for negotiation, including the diplomatic and security dialogue, the comprehensive economic dialogue, the law enforcement and cybersecurity dialogue, and the social and culture issues dialogue. When they met in Beijing, they continued to work on these dialogue mechanisms.

These exchanges have promoted cooperation. Trump proposed an “America First” policy, which aims to attain better trade deals for the U.S. China understood this sentiment, but favored a constructive solution. The two presidents have agreed to enlarge the pie of China-U.S. economic cooperation. This increased trust between the two governments trickles down to individual enterprises. The business contracts and investment agreements between the two countries inked during Trump’s visit were valued at over $250 billion dollars.

The heads of states also discussed North Korea, and reasserted a commitment to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

Trump’s visit has moved the China-U.S. relationship forward. The two countries have agreed to increase the role of the head of state diplomacy in bilateral relations. More such high-level exchanges can be expected in future.

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