Trump summit will be only US stop for Xi, says Secret Service source
US media reports add that Chinese president will not stay at Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach
President Xi Jinping will limit his US visit next month to Palm Beach, Florida, and local US media are reporting that he won’t stay at Mar-a-Lago, US President Donald Trump’s exclusive Palm Beach residence.
A US Secret Service spokesperson, who asked not to be identified, confirmed that Xi and his delegation would be in Palm Beach on April 6 and 7 for meetings with Trump, and that the Chinese president had no other US stops planned.
The spokesperson declined to confirm reports from CNBC and the Palm Beach Post that Xi would stay at Eau Palm Beach Resort and Spa during his stay.
The White House has not formally announced Xi’s visit, but a senior state department official said on Tuesday that the two leaders would meet in the first full week in April. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had planned to skip a meeting of Nato foreign ministers scheduled for April 5 and 6 to attend the summit.
Xi’s trip to Florida may follow a visit to Finland. The Finnish president’s office said on Wednesday night that Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, would make a state visit to the country on April 5. Xi will meet his counterpart Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Juha Sipila in Helsinki to discuss economic and diplomatic matters.
Observers of the planned Xi-Trump summit said the fact that the governments involved had kept quiet about the much anticipated meeting was a departure from diplomatic norms.
It was a sign that Beijing and Washington were negotiating the final details until just days ahead of the summit, they said.
“It is quite extraordinary that no confirmation has been made about the summit even after Tillerson’s trip to China, which was aimed at paving the way for the Xi-Trump meeting,” Pang Zhongying, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said.
In the past, presidential summits between the leaders of the world’s two biggest economies had usually been officially announced weeks, if not months, in advance, observers noted.
In 2013, the White House broke the news nearly three weeks before Xi, who assumed power in late 2012, had his first meeting with Barack Obama in June at the Sunnylands estate in California.
Hours later, the Chinese foreign ministry duly confirmed Xi’s US trip, which was best remembered for the pair’s long strolls in their shirtsleeves.
Xi’s first state visit to Washington, in September 2015 – his seventh US trip in three decades – was announced by Xinhua seven months earlier.
Analysts said the secrecy surrounding the Xi-Trump summit was also because both sides were aware of the enormous stakes the meeting had, and the increasing challenges to Sino-US relations.
“The fact that neither side has confirmed the trip means there are still certain issues and differences to be smoothed over,” Jin Canrong, a foreign affairs analyst at Renmin University, said.
Pang agreed that the delayed confirmation of the summit showed bilateral ties were facing greater uncertainty under Trump.
“Apparently, Trump has posed unprecedented challenges for Chinese officials and diplomats, who should be adept at making preparations for leadership summits,” he said.
Liu Weidong, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said security concerns might not be the main reason for Xi to avoid staying overnight at the private Mar-a-Lago estate.
“China might want to avoid having its top leader staying at a place with strong elements of Trump’s personal style,” Liu said.
China might also be trying to avoid being caught in US criticisms of Trump’s spending on expenses. “China wouldn’t want to get involved in something so controversial on a diplomatic trip,” Liu said.
The summit comes after Trump’s failure last week to corral enough votes in Congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, a major piece of health care legislation passed by his predecessor, Obama.
“Often, presidents look to foreign affairs to make achievements they can’t achieve domestically,” David Lampton, a professor of China studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, said.
Trump “may be looking for an opportunity to look presidential”.
Tensions between the two nations over security issues, primarily differing strategies towards North Korea and disputes over islands China claims in the South China Sea, are running high.
Trump may also need to address discontent from business groups about restrictions foreign companies face in China and preferential treatment for Chinese firms on their home turf.
Considering the lack of predictability and reliability in Trump’s foreign policy and the fierce political opposition he faces in Washington, analysts say Xi should make the most of his first trip since the US presidential election by adding a stopover in the nation’s capital.
Xi did not visit Washington during the Sunnylands meeting in 2013, but he did so in 2012 as vice-president and in 2015 during Obama’s second term.
It would be in Beijing’s interests for Xi to meet congressional leaders and key Republicans to grasp the state of US domestic politics en route to the summit, Huang Jing of the National University of Singapore said.
“I think Xi should insist on having a short stay in Washington where he will have the opportunity to reach out to Trump’s critics in Congress, especially from the Republican party, who are the cream of the opposition to Trump’s administration,” Huang said.
“Trump is and will remain an embattled president who needs to be managed for the first time in US history, and it is likely that his tenure at the White House will be embroiled in endless internal wrangling with political enemies from his own party and beyond.”
But Renmin University’s Jin said it was unlikely Xi would meet congressional leaders or Trump critics in Congress because “it may irritate Trump and spoil the summit even before it starts”.
Additional reporting by Teddy Ng, Kinling Lo and Associated Press