Chinese President Xi Jinping’s overriding goal will be to stabilize US-China relations when he arrives later this week for his two-day summit with President Donald Trump, says Robert Lawrence Kuhn, a political/economics commentator on China Global Television Network who serves as an official advisor to the Chinese government.
Kuhn, a former investment banker who briefs Chinese officials on global affairs, also believes that bilateral trade issues and North Korea’s nuclear missile conundrum will top the list of Xi’s major concerns at Mar-a-Lago in Florida.
Xi may also offer Chinese investment and construction support for Trump’s US$1 trillion plan to rebuild America’s infrastructure, says Kuhn, author of How China’s Leaders Think.
Kuhn adds that while Chinese officials find Trump’s personal style “bewildering,” they also find his quick flexibility on touchy issues such as one China to be a positive.
Kuhn spoke with Asia Times about what the two leaders will likely discuss when they meet at Trump’s private Florida club on April 6 and 7.
AT: Does China have high expectations for the Trump-Xi summit at Mar-a-Lago? What does Beijing hope to achieve?
Kuhn: China has one overarching objective at the summit: to maintain stability in Sino-US relations, both overall and with respect to four specific issues: trade, North Korea, Taiwan and the South China Sea. The first two right now are the most sensitive.
China’s driving motivation is two-fold: protect the economy from perturbations during a time of transformation and enable a well-choreographed 19th CPC National Congress in the autumn.
AT: Will the South China Sea issue and Chinese investment in the US be discussed?
Kuhn: Yes, but in different contexts. I do not think the South China Sea will be a major topic as both sides seem willing to accept the current status quo after China increased its presence on certain artificial islands in the area.
Chinese investment is a potential carrot Xi can offer, but (he) will note US opposition to certain Chinese investments. I expect Chinese support for infrastructure investment and construction in the US. High-speed rail in particular, can be a major area of win-win cooperation.
AT: The New York Times says Chinese officials find Trump a “bewildering” figure. Is this true?
Kuhn: Many people find Trump a “bewildering” figure. Sino-US diplomacy has long been based on very carefully crafted statements and assertions that can be parsed so that each side can find acceptable nuances of meaning.
Trump blows this up by drafting blunt Tweets and making sudden changes of policy. To China, Trump’s unambiguous Tweets such as on North Korea are troublesome. But the unembarrassed ease with which he changes “bad” policy — like on “One China” can be a good thing.
AT: Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has been characterized in the US press as an influential go-between in Sino-US relations. Is Kushner really a key player?
Kuhn: Yes. Jared and (daughter) Ivanka, as family, are the only people with official positions in the Trump White House that (the president) truly trusts. Trump may not always go with their recommendations. But they can always have his ear. Moreover, each is smart and non-ideological and unambiguously wants what’s in the best interest of Trump as well as the country.