What Came Out Of President Trump's Trip To China

Nov 9, 2017
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

President Trump wrapped up a visit to China today, and now we're going to take a look at what each country did or didn't get out of that visit. Trump lavished praise on Chinese President Xi Jinping and his country.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: My feeling toward you is an incredibly warm one. As we said, there's great chemistry. And I think we're going to do tremendous things for both China and for the United States.

MCEVERS: But what about the real and contentious issues between the two countries, especially on North Korea and U.S.-China trade? To talk about that, we have NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Beijing. Hi there.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So let's start with one of the big issues for the United States. The administration has been trying to get China to put more pressure on North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions. Did Trump convince the Chinese to do more on that?

KUHN: There's no sign of that. Both sides basically just restated their old points. They will not accept a North - a nuclear North Korea. They insist that the peninsula must be free of nukes. But after that, the similarities end. The U.S. says it wants China to go beyond the United Nations sanctions to cut off all its trade with North Korea, and China will not go that far. It will not risk North Korea collapsing. It will not risk hostilities breaking out between China and North Korea.

According to Secretary of State Tillerson, what Xi Jinping told Trump was that the sanctions are working. They're biting on North Korea, but it's just going to take more time to have an effect. In a speech today, President Trump called North Korea a murderous regime. But these president's statements were not broadcast live in China. And so I think most average Chinese did not hear this message.

MCEVERS: Now let's talk about trade. President Trump wants to clear up the U.S. trade deficit with China and get more access in China for U.S. firms. Did he make any progress there?

KUHN: Well, he did get more than $250 billion in business deals which were signed by U.S. executives who came with them to China. But a lot of these deals may have been in the works already. Some of them may never pan out. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson admitted that the deals were actually pretty cosmetic, and the structural issues that cause these trade imbalances were not addressed.

MCEVERS: So it sounds like President Trump didn't really come away with much. Is that right?

KUHN: Yeah. Well, Trump came here clearly intending to pressure China to make concessions, and he couldn't force them to do it. He tried to flatter them to do it, but that didn't work either. China seemed mostly to want to be left alone and not pressured so that it can just continue developing its economy and growing richer and stronger.

That's not to say that China does not have its own positive agenda. It does want things. It wants the U.S. to open its markets to Chinese investments, which is sometimes shut out for national security reasons. And it also wants the U.S. to stop sending military spy planes and warships through what it considers its backyard, the Western Pacific. But it also can't force the U.S. to do things. So while it brings them up, it doesn't seem to be pushing as hard as the U.S.

At the end of the day, I think Xi Jinping wants his own people to see that foreign leaders are giving him and China respect and admiration. And they can point to this as evidence that China is experiencing a renaissance and it's getting more and more respect in the world. So I think what Trump may face when he comes home is the accusation that what he got was essentially a walk-on part in Xi Jinping's stage show or a chance to just help Xi Jinping burnish his own image.

MCEVERS: So then where will Trump go from here?

KUHN: Well, he may give up on buttering up Xi any further. He may turn to sticks instead of carrots. He may resort to things such as tariffs on Chinese imports or restricting market access for Chinese companies. He could try to make life difficult for China on many fronts, such as in the South China Sea. But of course China could return the favor, and it could end up costing both sides quite dearly.

MCEVERS: NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Beijing, thank you.

KUHN: You're welcome, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.