BEIJING — The president who considers himself a consummate deal maker opened trade and North Korea talks Thursday with one of the world’s biggest and most complex negotiating partners: China.
“Looking forward to a full day of meetings with President Xi and our delegations,” Trump tweeted after a day of festivities Wednesday that included a tour of the Forbidden City, a colorful opera, and a dinner. “THANK YOU for the beautiful welcome China! @FLOTUS Melania and I will never forget it!”
On Thursday, Trump sat down for hard meetings with President Xi Jinping that focused on disputes over trade policy and what to do about North Korea’s nuclear weapons, issues on which the first-year president is looking to make deals.
The leaders met after a pageant-like welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
As Chinese children waved U.S. and China flags, Trump and Xi strolled down a red carpet to review the troops stationed in front of the massive hall near Tiananmen Square. A band played the Chinese and American national anthems, as well as patriotic tunes like “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
Trump and Xi were expected to make formal statements later Thursday.
In pursuing the goals of his 10-day trip to Asia, Trump is trying to get China to put more economic pressure on North Korea and force it to give up nuclear weapons. The former New York businessman also wants China to change trade polices he says are unfair to the United States, and to get the Chinese to buy more American goods.
The White House is planning to announce more than $250 billion in business deals with the Chinese.
Trump has been full of praise for Xi and China on what is probably the most important stop of his Asia tour.
Quite a contrast from the presidential campaign, when Trump constantly argued that China stole jobs from the United States, particularly manufacturing jobs in the heartland. At one point candidate Trump had said, “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country and that’s what they’re doing.”
So far, China has offered resistance to President Trump’s new overtures on trade and North Korea.
Xi and his aides have said their influence with North Korea is limited. They have also defended their economic practices, saying they are determined to protect Chinese business and industry, and that the Americans have questionable practices and closed markets of their own.
The transactional nature of Trump’s dealings with foreign leaders as president has drawn criticism from foreign policy analysts who say long-term policy is more important that individual purchases of U.S. goods.
“Deals are no substitute for policy change,” said David Dollar, a senior fellow on the Chinese economy at The Brookings Institution.
Very often, the deals Trump announces are not really new, Dollar said. Many have been in the works for a long time, or are extensions of existing agreements involving things like agricultural products.
Trump should focus on ways to open more Chinese markets currently closed to American producers.
“What would really change the relationship is opening up new markets in areas from autos to entertainment to social media,” Dollar said. “There seems to have been little discussion of this kind of policy change either in preparation or during the trip.”
Trump has sought deals throughout his Asia trip. During his first two stops, he asked the leaders of Japan and South Korea to buy more U.S. military goods, and both replied they are eager to do so.
“Deals are cheap wins and represent a cheap substitute for long-term strategic gains for U.S. companies in market access,” said Elizabeth Economy, director of Asia Studies with the Council on Foreign Relations.
All of that “requires long-term, multi-level strategy, not simply a transactional mentality.” she said.
The deals announced this week in Beijing “help the Chinese placate president Trump during a two day state visit,” Economy said, “but they don’t require China to change the way it does business.”
Completing his tour in the days ahead, Trump is expected to dicker with more leaders on the sidelines of economic conferences in Vietnam and the Philippines.
His meeting list includes Russia President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Vietnam conference. It comes at a time when a special counsel in the United States is investigating Trump campaign associates in connection with Russia interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
As with Xi, Trump wants Putin to exert more economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on North Korea over its nuclear weapons.