No Major Breakthroughs Are Reported During Trump-Xi Talks

Nov 9, 2017
Originally published on November 9, 2017 9:27 am
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep in Beijing. Two world leaders representing the world's two largest economies are sharing a stage this week. Their stage, in a sense, is this city of Beijing, where President Trump dined last night at the Forbidden City and today appeared with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a business conference. The American president said U.S. trade relations with China are unfair, but he doesn't blame China.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens? I give China great credit.

INSKEEP: Friendly words from both presidents papered over some big differences. So what are these two leaders really doing? NPR's Anthony Kuhn has covered China for years, and he's here.

Hi, Anthony.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: Do you hear any sign that the two countries are going to change their basic approach to one another?

KUHN: Not from this visit. It was pretty much as I expected. I did not see any major breakthroughs at all. As you know, the Trump administration's main priorities were trade and North Korea. They got some things. They got some big deals, more than $250 billion worth of deals signed - but no big concessions on market access that have been explained yet. On North Korea, no indication that China is going to go farther than it has already in completely cutting off North Korea, as the Trump administration would like. But I think for China, you know, the optics were certainly good, and they wanted that.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk a little bit about those optics. You and I watched today as President Trump and President Xi gave these kind of side-by-side speeches. President Xi, among other things, said - hey, we are already buying billions and billions of dollars of American products. What is the implied message when he stands up and says that?

KUHN: The implied message is that China is opening up to the outside world. And if you really want to help the trade imbalance, start exporting some of your high-tech products that you wouldn't give to us.

INSKEEP: Oh, things that the United States would rather not give up for national security reasons.

KUHN: Exactly.

INSKEEP: Well, stay with us, Anthony, because I want to bring a couple of other voices into the conversation. We've been out on the streets of Beijing the last few days just talking with people about President Trump. And we're going to listen to a couple of opinions. The first comes from Oliver Wong. He's a public relations professional, and he had a particular view of Beijing's famous visitor.

OLIVER WONG: Very interesting and weird man - one of the richest person in the world wanting to represent the poorest.

INSKEEP: Mr. Wong spoke with our colleague Miranda Kennedy.

And then there's Mo Song, who works in an executive training program and who compared the styles of the two presidents and found President Xi more cautious.

MO SONG: Chinese people tend to be, like, very formal. And Americans, they are very freestyle (laughter).

INSKEEP: Freestyle?

SONG: Yeah. I think Trump is the representative of freestyle. He just speaks what he thinks. And he's not a very typical politician.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about that freestyle politician and some of the information that people in China receive about President Trump. How do the state media portray this president, Anthony?

KUHN: Well, don't forget there are only state media. But - OK. Here, for example, we have the People's Daily. And right here on the front page you have this big picture of Xi Jinping and his wife and Trump and his wife. And the whole article is about how Trump and his wife were dazzled by the splendors of Chinese traditional culture - the opera they saw, the food they ate, the music they heard. And only at the very end does it mention that affairs of state came up.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) Well, the implied message of that, I guess, is not really anything about President Trump. It's that China is great and President Trump likes China.

KUHN: Yes. But let me give you another example real quick.

INSKEEP: You've picked up another article there. OK.

KUHN: OK. This is from a very nationalist tabloid called the Global Times. And it says that, really, Chinese people like Trump more than you might think. They say he's a straight talker. He's a pragmatic sort of businessman, doesn't hassle China about human rights. And his children are very successful and could be good role models for youth. So basically, the U.S. media has given Trump a bad rap.

INSKEEP: OK. Now, wait a minute. That's a state-owned publication that's very nationalistic, no fan of the United States. But they're writing this very flattering article about President Trump? What's going on there?

KUHN: Well, I guess it's a nationalist lovefest. Nationalists love nationalists. But, you know, it's also very much - it fits in with China's policies, so there's no problem with that.

INSKEEP: So as you read all these different publications, is there a particular word or phrase or idea that's been repeated again and again this week?

KUHN: There sure is. And the whole media has been talking about the fact that China is now entering a new era, and it's basically the era of Xi Jinping. And the message is that, during this era, China's going to go from prosperity to strength and that foreign friends who want to get in on this can also make a lot of money if they come to China and invest.

INSKEEP: Anthony, always a pleasure spending time with you. Thanks.

KUHN: You, too, Steve. Thanks.

INSKEEP: NPR's Anthony Kuhn is here in Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.