US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is in China, met the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Saturday after which both held a joint press conference. There are reports in the US and Chinese media that US President Donald Trump is scheduled to host Chinese President Xi Jinping for a two-day summit on April 6-7 at his mansion Mar-a-Lago in Florida which Trump is using as his winter retreat. Tillerson’s China visit is being seen as intended to lay groundwork for the upcoming summit.
According to Global Times, the sister publication of People’s Daily, Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper, Tillerson’s visit to China has ‘served to reduce anxiety over US-China’ ties. Global Times writes quoting Wang Yi that “the phone call between the two countries’ leaders has served as guidance for both sides” to work out further details.
After Donald Trump assumed the US presidency, the US-China ties have been under cloud with Trump indicating that he may take a different approach to the issues that China finds vital to its interests.
Though Trump put his faith in the One China policy during his first phone call with Jinping last month, his acts in the past have indicated otherwise. Breaking the three decade old US protocol of not speaking to Taiwan, Trump spoke to Taiwan president in November after his victory. Further, Trump said that the ‘One China’ policy was not sacrosanct and was open to new realignments, like with new trade deals. China ferociously follows the ‘One China’ policy and believes Taiwan is a rouge province that will sooner or later come to its fold.
WHAT CAN FIGURE PROMINENTLY IN TRUMP-JINPING TALKS?
The issue is expected to figure prominently in Trump-Jinping talks. And if we go by a report published in The Independent today that says the Trump Administration is preparing to sell Taiwan arms it needs in case of a Chinese attack, there are bound to be hard negotiations as Sean Spicer, the White House Press Secretary, said after the Trump-Jinping call last month that ‘Trump always gets something in return in negotiations’. The new arms sales package to Taiwan, at a time when both countries are preparing for a summit between their leaders, tells that Trump is not satisfied with what assurance he got from Jinping during his phone call and he intends for more.
Though there were no discussions on Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) issue, it is another issue that Tillerson and Wang Yi would be hoping to work on set the contours of the talks when Jinping-Trump meet next month. China has come down heavily on South Korea for deploying the US missile defense system against North Korea after North Korea tested ballistic missiles this month. China is opposed to THAAD’s deployment in the region saying it disturbs power balance and is inimical to its interest in the South China Sea, another disputed region where China is pitted against the US and other world powers after a UN panel rejected Chinese claims on the South China Sea.
Tillerson’s China visit, it seems, is aimed at finding common grounds for bottleneck issues to prepare conducive atmosphere for Trump-Jinping summit, something that China also realises. Global Times, quoting Wang Yi, writes, “It is normal for China and the US to have their differences, and that open communication is essential.”