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President Trump Meets With China's Xi Jinping


China's president, Xi Jinping, arrives in Florida tomorrow for his first summit with President Trump. Trump talked tough about China on the campaign trail, and the relationship between the two countries has been bumpy since he took office. This week, both men will be looking for ways to do business with each other. From Beijing, NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Many Chinese citizens favored Donald Trump to win the U.S. election. One thing that appealed to them was the image suggested by Trump's book, "The Art Of The Deal."

KERRY BROWN: The Chinese quite like the idea of a deal-maker because I think they are looking for a deal.

KUHN: That's Kerry Brown, a professor of Chinese studies at King's College, London. He says China is not looking for some grand geopolitical bargain. Instead...

BROWN: They want to deal with very tangible things - trade flows, investment flows, intellectual property.

KUHN: To some, the very fact of the summit itself is a big win. Shi Yinhong is an international relations expert at People's University in Beijing. He says Trump's harsh campaign rhetoric had China deeply alarmed.

SHI YINHONG: (Through interpreter) We worried that if we did not take immediate stabilizing measures, the China-U.S. relationship could nosedive and pose serious problems for our economic and strategic security.

KUHN: Shi notes that this is a year of political transition in China. Xi Jinping is due for a second five-year term, a bad time to have a crisis with the U.S. Shi argues China has moved quickly to prevent one. He points out that Trump initially threatened to upgrade unofficial ties with Taiwan, which China considers its territory. But in February, Trump backed down in a phone call with Xi Jinping.

SHI: (Through interpreter) By prompting the U.S. to affirm its traditional one-China policy and by getting Trump to agree to a summit so early on, China has already won two fights.

KUHN: Shi argues that the Trump presidency sends an important message to the Chinese people similar to the one sent by the 2008 financial crisis and by the U.K.'s Brexit from the European Union. The message is that as many problems as China may have, things in the western democracies are not much better.

SHI: (Through interpreter) Western countries and the U.S. have not done a good job with their own domestic economies and politics. This has substantially, though indirectly, strengthened the Communist Party's power in China.

KUHN: And given Beijing confidence precisely in those areas where it does not want to bargain with the U.S. Kerry Brown again.

BROWN: It does not want to need to defend its value system or its domestic issues. It feels like it doesn't have to answer to anyone.

KUHN: Beijing may also not want to yield much, Brown says, on what may be the most urgent issue at the summit, the North Korean Nuclear Crisis.

BROWN: Mr. Trump seems to have very strong opinions about this issue, and he's probably right that China's the one that's going to solve it. But he can't tell them how to solve it. They're going to have to work their way towards doing that themselves.

KUHN: Brown predicts that Beijing will get more from Trump than they give, partly, because they've read him like a book.

BROWN: So I think that they have worked out that he's a conceited man. And the Chinese are very good in the theater of their diplomacy in making people feel important.

KUHN: He adds that the Chinese have nimbly used the back channel to Trump provided by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, even if it triggers flashbacks to their own imperial past.

BROWN: How strange the world's principal power and the great sort of modern force has this first family running things. It's almost sort of like a kind of dynasty.

KUHN: Brown reckons China may be more successful than any other major power at navigating the Trump era. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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