Probably more than any other high-stakes diplomatic meeting, I find the meeting of President Trump and Xi Jinping deeply amusing.
The idea of the president of China flying to America to meet with a former reality television star is in itself marvellously funny. But, the fact that this conference is to take place in Mar-a-Lago – the surreal, garish, grown-man’s Disneyland dubbed the ‘Winter White House’ – is the icing on the comedy cake. I simply cannot imagine a location less suited to President Xi, save perhaps an amateur dramatic production of Footloose. Come to think of it, Xi might enjoy the film – if only as evidence of the omnipresent disregard for authority plaguing America. Kevin Bacon, you’re a monster.
I can only imagine that officials from both nations are finding this meeting markedly less funny.
Indeed, with North Korea and the trade deficit on the agenda, it will likely be a tense meeting between what must surely now be recognised as the two global superpowers. I must acknowledge my lack of especial insight into this meeting, having not extensively studied China’s relationship with the US, though I suspect I am in the majority on that. What is perhaps within my grasp, is the recognition of the unexpectedly weak hand of the US in these talks.
China does not need anything from the US. Unlike in earlier administrations, China is not seeking concessions or commitments from America. They got that a few months ago when Trump affirmed the ‘One-China’ policy. By contrast, America has a more significant wish-list: China to pressure North Korea into abandoning any nuclear programme, and an end to Chinese goods being dumped in US markets.
As any avid reader of The Art of the Deal will know, the power in any negotiation lies with the less desperate party – and Trump is certainly desperate for a win. Frustrated by Congress, dogged by scandal, beset by ethics conundrums, it is fair to say that Trump is in a far weaker political position than Xi.
So, as an armchair observer, I am certainly not expecting more than a photo-op and perhaps a commitment to further talks. Anything more than this is probably unfeasible in such a short confab. If nothing else, it will be the chance to witness the new American policy in action.
Will Trump hold open the door for Xi? Or will it be America First?
Written By: Matt Allen