Beijing, China. The Chinese President Xi Jinping is a man of protocol. Xi, the country’s most powerful leader in decades, is rarely observed without his back straight as an arrow, his hair perfectly black, and his expression a rigid half-smile. He’s virtually never quoted beyond brief exchanges, most in Communist Party slang. His personal life is hidden in the shadows by design.
US President Trump, by contrast, is known as a man of business, unpredictable. So in advance of Xi’s meeting with Trump at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in the Florida heat everybody is on edge. Something indeed unique takes place, a first meeting for the two leaders with the Chinese government uneasy.
For some Chinese officials, many of Trump’s previous interactions with foreign leaders may raise red flags. The president reportedly cut short a heated phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and refused to shake German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hand, something the Germans are still doing damage control over.
The meeting could set the tone for the next several years of US and Chinese relations, and allow the two leaders to size each other up on issues including North Korea, where the US has recently threatened unilateral military action on the Chinese allied nation state.
Trump, who said once during his campaign that China was “raping” the U.S. economically, tweeted on Friday that the meeting “will be a very difficult one” in regard to trade issues. His administration is preparing a major arms deal with Taiwan, a self-governing island that China considers its sovereign territory, sure to totally anger the Chinese as no previous US administration has reached out to Taiwan as Trump has.
With guarded tones Chinese state media sources have reported on the preparations with extreme restraint. On Monday, the New China News Agency’s website featured only one story on the topic, about White House spokesman Sean Spicer’s statement that Trump “looks forward” to the visit.