China will come bearing small gifts, and take the measure of the man who has become the wildcard of global politics, eyeball to eyeball.
Ahead of the first meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump in Florida on Thursday, Chinese analysts say both leaders have strong domestic political reasons to make the summit “not a failure”.
Trump will loudly proclaim to an American domestic audience that his tough bargaining has extracted victory over China on the issues of North Korea and US trade imbalances, they predict.
Xi will in turn win a delay to punitive US trade sanctions, and avoid US action against North Korea that harms Chinese companies.
At least, this is the view from Beijing.
Chinese expectations of the meeting are framed by the need for Xi to maintain a stable relationship with the United States that won’t damage the Chinese economy in the lead-up to a key meeting of the Chinese Communist Party in November.
Wary of the trade threat to China flagged in Trump’s election promise to “make America great again”, Xi will be looking to improve as much as possible the relationship between the Chinese government and the Trump administration, said Professor of international relations at Renmin University, Shi Yinhong.
“He will try to delay any possible Trump punitive measures on the economy. If the punitive actions are later, then they will be less intensive.”
Professor Shi said Trump had become “deeply involved in serious domestic political issues”, so may have less appetite for foreign affairs.
“President Xi also has some domestic political interests, to impress the Chinese people and Chinese party with his smart tactics … to manage the volatile Trump,” he said.
Trump had told the American people he would force China to take more action against North Korea, but such sanctions would come at an economic cost to China, Professor Shi said.
“President Xi will be quite reluctant to make further big sanctions against North Korea, but he has to take some measures. President Xi will give President Trump some small gifts on the issue of North Korea and some small gifts on the issue of China trade practices.
“But President Trump will say to the American people they are not small gifts. He will say he exerted pressure and he got something.”
North Korea on Wednesday fired yet another missile into the sea, prompting the White House to repeat its warning that “all options” are on the table to deal with North Korea.
China has called for a return to negotiations, and for the US to suspend its military exercises in the region with South Korea in exchange for North Korea ending its missile activity.
Shen Dingli, Professor of International Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, played down the latest North Korean launch.
“It was very polite, they usually shoot more than one missile,” he said.
Professor Shen said that “mutual understanding and respect” were the key outcomes China wanted from the meeting.
“To meet with him and understand in person what his style will be. Only meeting in person do you get first-hand knowledge,” he said.
Bonnie Glaser of the US-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies said the Chinese are nervous about the potential for a US-China trade war.
“Xi Jinping needs to demonstrate that he can keep the US-China relationship stable in the run-up to the 19th Party Congress. Xi will almost certainly come with proposals for investment in US infrastructure projects and perhaps announce big purchases of Boeing aircraft or other big-ticket items,” she told Fairfax Media.
“But frankly that won’t be enough for Trump, who is seeking a commitment to address the structural imbalances in the relationship that have advantaged China over the US. It’s possible that Xi will pledge to take more far-reaching measures next year, when his position is further consolidated.”
Respected Chinese business publisher Hu Shuli, editor-in-chief of Caixin Media, wrote that the meeting will have a “great impact” on global politic, economics and the military structure in the western pacific region.
China can ensure the relationship is free from accidents by continuing domestic reform, fulfilling its promise of openness and expanding the boundaries of common interest, she said.