USA Foreign Policy First Look

Trump to meet with Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago this week

President Trump will meet with his Chinese counterpart for the first time on April 6 and 7 at Trump's Florida resort, to discuss trade, North Korea, and territorial disputes in the South China Sea, among other matters.

A combination of file photos showing Chinese President Xi Jinping at London's Heathrow Airport in October 2015 and US President Trump in New York City in 2016.
Toby Melville/Lucas Jackson/Reuters/File
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President Trump is scheduled to meet with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago resort on April 6 and 7.

Their meeting comes after months of ramped-up tensions between the two powers. Mr. Trump described China as a “currency manipulator” during the campaign, and further angered the country by accepting a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan’s president after his election, in violation of the “One China” policy that the United States government has maintained since 1979. On top of these barbs, other recent developments, such as the deployment of a US missile-defense system in South Korea, have worsened tensions further.

Now, some decisionmakers are calling for a change in tone. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang recently underscored the strong economic linkages between the two nations, telling reporters that "interests between our two countries are structured so that you will always have me and I will always have you.”

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had “emerged as an influential, moderating voice” on China relations, and was “heavily involved in planning the presidential visit.”

While analysts don’t expect this visit to resolve the tangle of disagreements between the US and China, the first face-to-face meeting between Trump and Mr. Xi – where they are expected to discuss trade, North Korea, and other issues – could help them establish a working relationship.

The site seems to have been selected with this goal in mind. “China had pushed for the more relaxed atmosphere of a meeting at Mr. Trump’s resort, rather than at the White House,” reports The New York Times. 

Past presidents have also found it useful to take delicate international negotiations outside the Beltway. Former President Barrack Obama and Xi first met at southern California’s Sunnylands estate in 2013; both Mr. Obama and his predecessors also hosted foreign leaders at Camp David in central Maryland.

But Trump has made no secret that he prefers palatial Mar-a-Lago, spending five weekends there since his inauguration. The costs of these visits have drawn sharp criticism, with The Washington Post estimating that the first three trips alone cost taxpayers $10 million in security and logistical expenses.  

Nor may it be well suited for all occasions. During Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s February visit, he and Trump discussed a recent North Korean missile launch in full view of other resort guests.

But this high-publicity visit may have also set an expectation that Mar-a-Lago is Trump’s preferred destination of choice for international meetings. Now, in a moment of growing tensions, the Chinese seem to be seeking the same treatment.