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Trump and China’s Xi meet as North Korea, trade tensions loom

April 7, 2017 at 6:35 PM EDT
President Trump on Friday was full of praise for Chinese President Xi Jinping, the man leading the nation that Mr. Trump once criticized as a menace. The two leaders' held their first summit amid urgent concerns over North Korea and its nuclear and missile testing programs, as well as tension over trade issues. John Yang reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: These American strikes in Syria came as President Trump, as we have reported, was hosting the president of China for their first summit — the chief issues, North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and trade between the world’s top two economies.

John Yang has a report.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The relationship developed by President Xi and myself, I think, is outstanding.

JOHN YANG: After his first encounter with the man leading the nation he once criticized as a menace, President Trump was full of praise.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: President Xi and all of his representatives have been really interesting to be with. I think we have made tremendous progress in our relationship with China.

JOHN YANG: White House officials said the goal of the seaside summit was to establish a basis for future relations.

XI JINPING, Chinese President (through interpreter): This bilateral meeting is a thoughtful and ingenious arrangement. It is an important and meaningful development in the U.S.-China relationship. I believe that, with the passage of time, we will make efforts to create prosperity for both countries and their people and to uphold global peace and stability.

JOHN YANG: The plush setting of Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort didn’t mask the urgency of their discussions, especially the U.S. hope that China will exert more economic pressure on North Korea to halt its nuclear and missile testing programs.

Pyongyang test-fired yet another missile this week. Mr. Trump told The Financial Times: “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.”

That message may have been underscored by the U.S. missile attack on Syria that took place as the two leaders had dinner.

MAX BAUCUS,  Former U.S. Ambassador to China: I suspect, frankly, that one of the reasons the president decided to strike Syria was to try to put President Xi and the Chinese a little off-balance.

JOHN YANG: Former U.S. Envoy to China Max Baucus says the moment of truth on North Korea is drawing near.

MAX BAUCUS: That’s going to put pressure on Xi to try to find a solution himself. They haven’t done a lot so far because they’d rather have stability on the peninsula than try to get him to stop doing what he’s doing. We, as Americans, I think have no choice but to try to find a solution with China. We cannot do this unilaterally.

JOHN YANG: Trade is another flash point between the world’s two largest economies. China accounted for almost 70 percent of last year’s $500 billion U.S. trade deficit.

During the campaign, denunciations of China were a constant refrain in Mr. Trump’s stump speeches.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Don’t forget, we’re the piggy bank. We have rebuilt China. They have taken so much money out of our country. We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country. And that’s what they’re doing.

JOHN YANG: Last week, the president signed a pair of executive orders aimed at combating foreign trade abuses, but he has yet to carry out his campaign promise to formally label China a currency manipulator.

In a February interview with Reuters, he said: “I think they’re grand champions at manipulation of currency. So I haven’t held back. We will see what happens.”

Democrats say the president’s all talk and no action.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., Minority Leader: One of the few hopes we had with President Trump is that he’d finally stand up to China, but, up to now, when it comes to China, he looks like a 98-pound weakling.

JOHN YANG: Former Ambassador Baucus.

How tough can the United States be on China on trade?

MAX BAUCUS: You have to stand up to them. And my view is, we should stand up to them more than we have, precisely, targeted, not big blunderbuss, you know, a huge, big tariff and all that, but, rather, selected industries and sectors.

JOHN YANG: Today, Mr. Trump said he’s looking forward to frequent meetings with President Xi.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We look forward to being together many times in the future, and I believe lots of very potentially bad problems will be going away.

JOHN YANG: U.S. officials say Mr. Trump has accepted an invitation to visit China in the future.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m John Yang.

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