China's President Xi Jinping arrives in Florida for crunch talks with Donald Trump

Tom Powell
Chinese president Xi Jinping walks with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson after arriving in Florida: REUTERS

China's president Xi Jinping has arrived in Florida for a summit with his US counterpart Donald Trump.

Mr Xi landed in West Palm Beach and was greeted by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, ahead of talks at Mar-a-Lago, the president's resort.

Mr Trump is expected to push the Chinese leader to take action on North Korea, after telling the Financial Times three days ago: “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.”

The president has taken an aggressive posture towards China, labelling Beijing a "tremendous problem" and arguing that lopsided trade deals with China short-change American businesses and workers.

Last week, he predicted in a tweet that his meeting with Mr Xi would be "very difficult".

The leaders are set for an important summit (REUTERS)

The White House has downplayed expectations for a breakthrough on issues such as trade and tariffs, insisting that the 24-hour summit is mostly an introductory meeting for the two leaders.

Within Mr Trump's administration, there are still divisions over how to approach China.

According to US and foreign officials, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and economic adviser Gary Cohn are leading the charge for boosting bilateral relations with China and exploring the potential for greater economic cooperation.

But economic adviser Peter Navarro, author of the book Death By China: Confronting The Dragon - A Global Call To Action, prefers trying to isolate China, in keeping with Mr Trump's America First mantra.

Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive in Florida (AP)

Patrick Cronin, a China expert at the Centre for a New American Security, said the Trump administration does not have "a reconciled trade and economic policy yet, and the differing views on China in the White House underscore that".

Ahead of the summit, Mr Trump signed a pair of executive orders focused on reducing the US trade deficit.

The moves appeared to be a shot at China, which accounted for the vast bulk - 347 billion dollars (£278 billion) - of last year's 502 billion dollar (£402 billion) trade deficit. Chinese exports to the US totalled some 388.1 billion dollars (£311 billion) last year.

Anthony Ruggiero, an East Asia expert at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, said China may be more willing to accommodate Mr Trump on trade and economic issues than on regional security issues, including North Korea.

Mr Xi, a shrewd political operator, is unlikely to want to rock the boat ahead of a Communist Party conclave later this year that will install new leadership.

The urgency about North Korea is expected to be at the forefront of the leaders' discussions.

A senior White House official said this week that the "clock has now run out" on Pyongyang, though officials have not detailed what steps Mr Trump is willing to take to halt North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

Like his predecessors, Mr Trump is pressing China to exert more economic pressure on North Korea, though there is no sign he will be any more successful than past American presidents. In an interview last week with the Financial Times, Mr Trump said that if China does not take a tougher stand, the US is prepared to act alone.

Mr Xi is also expected to seek assurances that Mr Trump will not interfere in the territorial dispute over the South China Sea or question the One China policy by reaching out to Taiwan's leader again, as he did during the transition. The move infuriated Beijing, leading Mr Trump to eventually reiterate his commitment to the decades-old policy.

Previous US administrations have held China accountable for its human rights record, something this government has made very little mention of, whether in China or elsewhere.

It also remains to be seen whether the Obama administration's deal with Beijing to curb Chinese cyber-theft for economic gain and its hacking of US companies will be addressed.