What Happened

U.S. President Donald Trump has concluded his whirlwind trip to Asia, the longest yet of his presidency. From November 8-10, Trump enjoyed a "State Visit Plus" to Beijing, where he and President Xi Jinping discussed bilateral trade issues.  

What People Are Saying

Ahead of the visit, David Lampton speculated in the South China Morning Post that a newly empowered Xi following the 19th Party Congress and a “politically needy” Trump were unlikely to reach consensus on critical issues ailing the bilateral relationship.

State-run news outlet Global Times contrastingly expressed excitement for Trump’s “State visit-plus” event in Beijing, and suggested that the visit may result in “significant outcomes” vis-à-vis economics and trade.

On the surface, Trump appears to have made progress on reducing the trade deficit between the two countries. Trump secured a whopping $250 billion in business deals, the full list of which was published by CNBC. However, Keith Bradsher noted that the deals, which are mostly symbolic, "won't be enough to stop a trade fight," arguing that bilateral relations are bound to be strained in the months ahead. 

Bloomberg reports that the most tangible outcome of Trump’s visit was the announcement of new rules that ease market access to China for financial firms. However, the article posits that China’s real motivation behind this market opening wasn’t offering the U.S. a concession, but picking the right timing to boost foreign direct investment. 

Various media outlets pointed toward Trump's red carpet treatment by Xi Jinping, which was the most lavish of all his presidential hosts across Asia, when arguing that Xi's flattery was more than just a sign of courtesy but instead a ploy to distract from ongoing trade issues.

Jim McGregor, Chairman for APCO Worldwide Greater China, suggested in an interview with CNN that Xi played Trump "like a fiddle;" similar comments were made by a former Mexican Ambassador to China

But some analysts disagree. Bill Bishop contends that “it is not so clear that Xi played Trump,” speculating that with a stronger China team in place, the Trump administration may roll out tougher trade policy towards China in the months ahead. 

Regardless of which country gained the most from the summitry, many agree that U.S. influence in the Asia Pacific region may be waning. The Wall Street Journal reports that Pacific-rim countries moved closer to core elements of a revised trade pact as Trump attacked countries for “cheating” America at the APEC Summit. 

Commentary in state-run Chinese media celebrated the meeting between the leaders of the world’s two largest economies. An editorial in Xinhua reflected on the “fruitful achievements” between the countries in signing $250 billion in deals on the eve of Singles Day. People’s Daily similarly lauded the two countries ushering in a “united and new era.”

Our Take

The contours of the outcomes of Trump's "State Visit Plus" to China will sharpen in the months ahead, but at first glance, the two days of exchanges between two of the world’s most powerful leaders afforded them both the opportunity to cater to domestic audiences and mandates. U.S. President Donald Trump was able to leave Beijing with hundreds of billions of dollars in business deals, allowing him to show his base at home that he is making progress on campaign promises. It is important to note, however, that many of these deals were symbolic MoUs that could fall apart in the months ahead or reinvigorated pronouncements of transactions that were already underway, not dedicated trade pacts.  

For his part, General Secretary Xi Jinping, having consolidated his power at the 19th Party Congress, projected a stately image to Trump and gained his respect, as would be becoming of the leader of a "new era." Such imagery enabled Xi to underscore Chinese power and prestige. Notably, discussions regarding North Korea did not seem to make progress, and the more fundamental structural issues undergirding the U.S.-China economic relationship were left unaddressed.

Caroline Meinhardt APCO
Caroline Meinhardt

Caroline Meinhardt is a policy analyst in APCO Worldwide’s Beijing office. She specializes in government affairs and policy monitoring and analysis and is a co-editor of APCO's China Reform Watch. Read More

Kaj Malden
Kaj Malden

Kaj Malden is a project consultant in APCO Worldwide's Shanghai office and a co-editor of APCO's China Reform Watch. Read More