Trump Is Coming to Visit, How Will China Respond?

By Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers news in China and Taiwan. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.
November 3, 2017 Updated: November 5, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump will make his first visit to China on Nov. 8, arriving soon after the conclusion of the 19th National Congress at which Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping consolidated his power. In their three days of meetings, trade and North Korea will surely be at the center of Trump and Xi’s talks.

There are signs already from the Chinese media that Trump will be unlikely to find a solution for a long-standing problem—the trade deficit with China. There appears to be hope that the President will get some form of assistance from his Chinese counterpart with regards to the North Korean regime.

At the daily regular press conference on Nov. 2, Hua Chunying, spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, spoke about how the two nations “will swim and sink together” as the two largest economies in the world. Hua said China has never “intended to pursue a trade surplus” and the “current situation in China-U.S. trade is utterly determined by the market.”

To emphasize her point, she said U.S. imports rose by 20.1 percent from January to August, while China’s trade deficit with the United States in the service sector grew by 36.5 percent from the first half of 2016 to first half of 2017.

According to U.S. Department of Commerce statistics, the total trade deficit with China increased to $347 billion last year, a deficit that Trump has called “so big and bad that it’s embarrassing saying what the number is.”

In discussions with Xi about the trade imbalance, Trump is likely to be pressured to address an issue of great concern to Chinese companies—the United States has been denying them the chance to invest in U.S. companies.

Equating the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment to an iceberg, an article published on Oct. 30 in The Paper, Chinese state-funded news website, stated how the commission had denied acquisitions by Chinese companies.

Scorching the big bid by Canyon Bridge, a China-backed private equity firm, for U.S. chipmaker Lattice was given as an example.

Currently under negotiation between the two countries is a $7-billion investment plan with U.S. firms and Sinopec, one of China’s state-run oil companies, to build a pipeline in Texas and expand an existing oil storage facility in the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to Bloomberg. The two areas were devastated by recent hurricanes. The project would create thousands of new jobs in these hurricane-affected areas, which would provide political benefits to Trump, according to Bloomberg.

According to the latest report from CNBC, 29 U.S. company executives are going to join Trump on the China trip, including Kevin McAllister, president and chief executive officer of Boeing Co.; Jack Fusco, president and chief executive officer of Cheniere Energy Inc.; Jose Emeterio Gutierrez, president & CEO of Westinghouse Electric Co. LLC; and Steve Mollenkopf, CEO of Qualcomm Inc.

While it is unclear how much will get done between the two nations in terms of business deals, the personal relationship between the two world leaders is a cordial one, said Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, in a joint interview with Chinese and foreign media on Oct. 30.

“The two heads of states have a very good working relationship, friendship, and a good level of trust between them. They can openly exchange their concerns with each other,” said Cui.

As for the issue of containing North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs, there appear to be signs that the two leaders will have common ground. An article published on the state mouthpiece Xinhua on Nov. 2 said China and the United States both depend on each other to  “secure stability in northeast Asia and realize a nuclear-free peninsula.”

In fact, the relationship between China and North Korea has recently soured, according to the Hong Kong Economic Times, which pointed to a change in the order of how the four socialist countries—North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and Cuba—were listed when Chinese state-run media reported on their congratulatory messages to Xi for becoming leader of the Chinese Communist Party for another five-year term.

Back in 2002, 2007, and 2012, Xinhua had listed North Korea first among the four countries. But this year, the North Korean regime came in last. Moving North Korea to the end of the list was a sign that the Chinese leadership was unhappy about how its neighbor had repeatedly ignored warnings not to test nuclear bombs.

Also signaling a tighter Sino-U.S. cooperation on North Korea, Zhang Zhaozhong, rear admiral in the PLA Navy and a frequent commentator on state-run television, predicted that Trump’s visit would “dismantle the fuse that put the Asia-Pacific region’s safety in jeopardy,” as the two leaders would talk about “a grand plan to eliminate nuclear ballistic missiles from North Korea,” according to posts on his Weibo account. Weibo is China’s equivalent to Twitter.  

Zhang’s comments were a sharp turnaround from his usual hostile attitude towards the United States. In August this year, he openly celebrated the collision between the USS John S. McCain, an Arleigh-Burke class destroyer, and a Liberian-flagged oil tanker via posts on his Weibo account. And in 2011, he declared that China would launch a third world war to protect Iran, when international pressure was mounting to stop the country from developing nuclear weapons.

Frank Fang
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers news in China and Taiwan. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.