President Donald Trump struck a markedly softer tone on touchy subjects like North Korea and trade with President Xi Jinping of China Thursday, and highlighted his “incredibly warm” feeling toward his counterpart.
During joint statements after talks in Beijing, Trump expressed optimism the U.S. and China will resolve the North Korea nuclear crisis. “I do believe there’s a solution to that, as you do,” Trump said.
Trump said he has “great respect” for Xi’s leadership on trade and noted the U.S. must change its policy. Trump blamed his predecessors in Washington for the trade deficit with China.
“It’s too bad that past administrations allowed it go get so far out of kilter,” Trump added. “But we’ll make it fair, and it will be tremendous for both of us.”
Trump concluded remarks by touting his “great chemistry” with Xi.
The Chinese leader said Beijing’s relationship with Washington “now stands at a new starting point” and vowed to “enhance communication and cooperation on the nuclear issues on the Korean Peninsula” and other issues.
“For China and the United States, cooperation is the only viable choice, and win-win cooperation can take us to a better future,” said the Chinese president.
Trump administration officials said during the closed talks, Trump pressed Xi on the North Korea nuclear issue. According to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump told Xi, “You’re a strong man, I’m sure you can solve this for me.”
Speaking in Beijing, Tillerson noted “there is no disagreement on North Korea” between the United States and China. The diplomat pointed out the Chinese have been clear and unequivocal over two days of talks that they will not accept a North Korea with nuclear weapons.
“There’s no space between both of our objectives,” said Tillerson. “We have our own views of the tactics, the timing and how far to go with pressure and that’s what we spend a lot of time exchanging views on.”
Tillerson also said the two men also had frank exchanges on human rights and maritime disputes in the South China Sea.
Later, Trump and Xi spoke to a meeting of business leaders. Trump said, “I thank President Xi for his recent efforts to restrict trade with North Korea and cut off banking ties. China can fix this problem easily and quickly.”
The shift in Trump’s rhetoric on trade was especially notable because the U.S. leader has long complained about the trade imbalance between China and the United States.
After the talks, Secretary Tillerson said, “The things that have been achieved thus far are pretty small” despite long hours of trade talks between the U.S. and China, adding the U.S. concerns about the pace of progress was communicated to Chinese officials Thursday.
For the first 10 months of the year, China’s trade surplus with the U.S. was $223 billion, according to recent data released by China’s General Administration of Customs.
Trump said the U.S. trade deficit with China is “shockingly hundreds of billions of dollars” annually.
President Xi said there is a wider and prosperous future for U.S.-China cooperation on trade, adding that $250 billion worth of business deals were signed during President Trump’s visit to China and that, “Chinese investment in the United States is rising rapidly.”
But the roughly 15 agreements unveiled in Beijing are mostly non-binding memorandums of understanding, and according to Bloomberg News, “could take years to materialize — if they do at all.”
Derek Scissors, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is pessimistic that such deals will do much to address the real hindrances to trade relations with China.
“The president likes deals, and he likes big numbers, but we’re not going to change something he doesn’t like, like the trade deficit, without changing Chinese trade practices,” Scissors said. “China has to have a different approach to trade in the world than it does.”
Scissors said that more than the deficit, it is what is behind the numbers, such as the fact that Chinese state-owned enterprises never go out of business.
“Which means American goods and services can’t ever win in the China market,” he said.
In his joint statement, Xi said, “there needs to be in-depth discussions on the trade imbalance” with the United States, among other issues.
The Chinese leaders predicted “there will be a wider and prosperous future for cooperation on trade,” specifically mentioning the oil and gas sector, beer, agricultural products, education and service contracts. He also invited more American companies to participate in China’s One Belt One Road initiative, an effort to create the world’s largest platform for economic cooperation, inspired by the ancient Silk Road trading network.
The United States and China, respectively, have the world’s largest economies and most powerful militaries.
The two leaders walked side by side on a red carpet at a welcoming ceremony early Thursday at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. The U.S. and Chinese national anthems were played by a military band, and ceremonial cannon fire from Tiananmen Square saluted Trump. An exuberant crowd of school children waved U.S. and Chinese flags.
The Trump administration is showcasing several business deals signed during the China trip, including a deal for China’s biggest online retailer to buy $1.2 billion of American beef and pork.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has said such business deals “are a good example” of how the United States “can productively build up our bilateral trade.”
Trump also met Thursday with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, whose position is similar to that of a prime minister.
Trump and his wife, Melania, were received with great pageantry on their arrival to China. The Trumps also were treated to a private visit to the Forbidden City, China’s ancient imperial palace. They also viewed an outdoor opera featuring costumes, music and martial arts.
The U.S. president arrived in Beijing a day after delivering a speech in Seoul, South Korea, in which he called on other nations to unite and “isolate the brutal regime of North Korea.”
Trump is on a 12-day, five-nation tour of Asia that will take him to Danang,Vietnam, on Friday, where he will speak at a meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).
Bill Ide, Marissa Melton contributed to this report.