WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will host his Chinese counterpart Thursday and Friday in Palm Beach, Florida, charting a course of action amid numerous points of friction, including a trade relationship long lopsided in China’s favor.
The summit with Xi Jinping at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago country club serves as their first face-to-face after repeated broadsides by Trump as a candidate about China hurting U.S. workers.
“It’s an economic enemy because they have taken advantage of us like nobody in history,” Trump had told ABC’s “Good Morning America” in November 2015. “It’s the greatest theft in the history of the world, what they’ve done to the United States. They’ve taken our jobs.”
As president, Trump’s tone has been more measured. He tweeted last week that the meeting with Xi “will be a very difficult one in that we can no longer have massive trade deficits.”
The talks will be “candid and constructive,” Acting Assistant Secretary of State Susan Thornton told reporters Wednesday.
Trump said during his campaign that the United States should stand up to China for its use of low-wage workers, its theft of U.S. intellectual property and its devaluation of the yuan.
But a senior White House official signaled Trump may stick closer to seeking reciprocity in trade.
China is a fast-growing economic powerhouse with a leg up on the U.S. Trade Representative figures showed exports at $161.6 billion compared to imports at $497.8 billion in 2015, the most recently available numbers.
Also looming over the summit will be North Korea’s recent ballistic missile testing.
The White House official said the U.S. and its allies, for the past 20 years, have tried “pretty much everything to bring about a safe and denuclearized peninsula,” but North Korea continues its provocation
“The clock has now run out and all options are on the table for us,” the official said.
“I think we will be looking for help from China to increase the pressure,” Thornton said.
Trade disparities and the retention of China as an ally against North Korea aren’t mutually exclusive, said Elizabeth Economy, director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“There is ample room for President Trump to push the Chinese on market access and tariffs or at least to raise these issues,” she said, adding of a response to North Korea, “China has its own interests in terms of enforcing the sanctions that are already in place or perhaps levying new ones.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday urged Trump to agressively confront China as what Schumer called a “serial cheater” and “No. 1 trade predator.”
The New York Democrat said Trump should declare China a currency manipulator as he vowed to do on the stump.
The senior White House official referred questions about China’s currency manipulation to the Department of the Treasury, which did not respond to requests for comment.