Donald Trump says he has 'developed a friendship' with Chinese president Xi Jinping as high stakes summit begins

Barney Henderson
President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, with they wives, first lady Melania Trump, left, and Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan, right, pose for photographers before dinner at Mar-a-Lago - AP

President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping opened their high-stakes summit at Trump's Florida beach resort on Thursday evening, with the urgent threat of North Korea's nuclear ambitions and tensions over trade on the agenda for the first meeting between the leaders of the world's two largest economies.

Trump and first lady Melania Trump greeted Xi and his wife at the Mar-a-Lago estate before making their way to dinner. 

The president pointed to the crisis in North Korea as a top priority in the meetings with Xi, telling reporters on Air Force One on his way to Florida on Thursday that he thinks China will "want to be stepping up" in trying to deter North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, with their wives, first lady Melania Trump and Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan are seated during a dinner at Mar-a-Lago Credit: AP

Still, Trump appeared lighthearted as he greeted Xi, gesturing and pointing to journalists as they tussled to get a shot of the two leaders together for the first time.

Ahead of the dinner, Trump said he and Xi already had had a long discussion and had "developed a friendship," and then joked, "I have gotten nothing, absolutely nothing."

The White House said the location was selected to give the two days of discussions a more relaxed feel. A number of Trump's top advisers were in attendance, including his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Outside the dining room where the two delegations gathered for a lavish dinner, Mar-a-Lago club members packed the patio for dinner.

While Trump would not say what he wants China to do specifically with regard to North Korea, he suggested there was a link between "terrible" trade agreements the U.S. has made with China and Pyongyang's provocations. He says the two issues "really do mix."

The president has said that if China doesn't exert more pressure on North Korea, the U.S. will act alone.

1:29AM

Japan to extend unilateral sanctions against North Korea

The Japanese government has decided to extend unilateral sanctions against North Korea by two years, Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko has said.

Tokyo will continue its prohibition of all trade between Japan and North Korea and ban on all North Korean ships from entering Japanese ports, Kyodo News reported earlier.

1:26AM

Dinner firmly underway in the ostentatious surrounds of Mar-a-Lago

President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, with their wives, first lady Melania Trump and Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan are seated during a dinner at Mar-a-Lago Credit: AP

Steve Bannon, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are in attendance:

trump dinner

 

1:10AM

Donald Trump 'pictured next to Darth Vader' on Air Force One

In case you missed it earlier, Mr Trump was pictured talking to reporters just as Darth Vader came on a screen next to him, prompting much delight on social media.

 

12:27AM

Trump: I have developed friendship with Xi

During dinner at Mar-a-Lago, Mr Trump said he had "developed a friendship" with Mr Xi and that he thinks he will have a "very, very great relationship" with the Chinese leader. 

The US president joked that "so far I have gotten nothing, absolutely nothing" in talks.

President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands during a dinner at Mar-a-Lago Credit: AP

 

11:49PM

North Korea and bringing manufacturing jobs back from China to top the agenda

The meeting comes after North Korea carried out a ballistic missile test on Wednesday, and as Mr Trump’s supporters demanded he fulfil his campaign promise to bring manufacturing jobs back from China, Nick Allen reports.

Speaking hours before sitting down to dinner with Mr Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan, Mr Trump said: “We have a big problem on North Korea, so we’re going to see what happens.”

Asked if he hoped to leverage China into action over North Korea’s nuclear programme, Mr Trump said: “I’ll tell you we’ll be in there pitching, and I think we’re going to do very well.”

U.S. President Donald Trump welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago state in Palm Beach, Florida Credit: Reuters

A US official said the potential for ramping up "secondary sanctions" against Chinese banks and companies that do business with Pyongyang would be "an early topic of conversation" and a "very live" subject.

"The feeling on our side is that this problem has really now become urgent. It reaches across the globe," the official said.

"Patience has basically come to an end. We feel this problem has now crossed a certain line and we can no longer hope for some kind of reversion to negotiations. We need to do something proactive to get some results."

A White House National Security Council official added: "It’s in Beijing’s interest. We think that North Korea long ago ceased to be a strategic asset for China. It is now quite clearly a strategic liability."

Mr Trump would be "sending a clear signal" to Mr Xi on North Korea.

U.S. President Donald Trump welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago state in Palm Beach, Florida Credit: Reuters

He told reporters aboard Air Force One on his way to Florida that he was going to address what he sees as an imbalaced trade relationship between the two powers - an issue he talked about at length during his presidential campaign. 

"We have been treated unfairly and have made terrible trade deals with China for many, many years. That's one of the things we are going to be talking about," the president said.

The US trade deficit with China last year was $347 billion, more than two thirds of the entire US deficit.

During the election Mr Trump accused China of "stealing" US jobs and factories, and of being a currency manipulator.

He pledged, as a successful businessman, to return jobs and threatened tariffs on Chinese goods.

His most fervent supporters want him to deliver and Mr Trump's team made clear they want to see "results" from the summit including a "level playing field" on trade.

10:30PM

Xi and Trump meet

The handshake has happened:

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping as he arrives before dinner at Mar-a-Lago resort Credit: AP

US First Lady Melania Trump (R) and President Donald Trump (2nd R) pose with Chinese President Xi Jinping (2nd L) and his wife Peng Liyuan (L) upon their arrival at Mar-a-Lago:

trump

 

 

9:45PM

Trump's comments on Syria and China aboard Air Force One

 

9:40PM

North Korea test

The most urgent problem facing Trump and Xi is how to persuade nuclear-armed North Korea to halt unpredictable behavior like missile test launches that have heightened tensions in South Korea and Japan, Reuters reports.

North Korea is working to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States.

The White House has said North Korea was a test for the U.S.-China relationship, and Trump has threatened to use trade to try to force China to exert influence over Pyongyang.

"I think China will be stepping up," Trump told reporters. Beijing says its influence is limited and that it is doing all it can but that it is up to the United States to find a way back to talks with North Korea.

Trump consulted on Wednesday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who said he and the president agreed by phone that North Korea's latest ballistic missile launch was "a dangerous provocation and a serious threat."

A White House strategy review is focusing on options for pressuring Pyongyang economically and militarily. Among measures under consideration are "secondary sanctions" against Chinese banks and firms that do the most business with Pyongyang.

A long-standing option of pre-emptive strikes remains on the table, but despite the tougher recent U.S. talk, the internal review "emphasises direct military action," a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Analysts believe any military action would likely provoke severe North Korean retaliation and massive casualties in South Korea and Japan and among U.S. troops stationed there.

Here is the arrival of the Chinese president's plane in Florida:

Plane carrying Chinese President Xi Jinping lands in West Palm Beach ahead of summit with Pres. Trump at Mar-a-Lago. https://t.co/VTXtjgNDYHpic.twitter.com/xsjplsKhuc

— ABC News (@ABC) April 6, 2017

 

9:25PM

What to watch for when the two most powerful men in the world meet

 

9:24PM

Can Donald Trump and Xi Jinping keep their relationship off the track to war?

John Hemmings writes:

Today sees the first day of a historic US-China summit in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, which will see two strongmen, Xi Jinping and Donald Trump sitting down together and thrashing out bilateral economic and security issues. Seen by many Washington insiders as premature, the summit with China seems to have come before President Trump has fully fleshed out his cabinet, and, some would say, before he has fleshed out his Asia policy. Whatever the case, the White House has indicated that North Korea, trade, and the South China Sea will be high on the agenda for the US side. For the man who talked of China over and over again on the campaign trail, a meeting with the Chinese president has been a long time in coming.

Read the full article.

9:21PM

Ivanka Trump arrives in Florida - with the kids

The First Daughter, who also has a role as Assistant to the President, has arrived in Florida for the Chinese president's visit.

Ms Trump has been a very visible presence during Mr Trump's first two months in the White House, focusing on policies relating to women and workforce development.

She has participated in meetings with Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor.

Ivanka Trump arrives in Florida  Credit:  Splash News

 

9:12PM

Trump: 'We have been treated unfairly and have made terrible trade deals with China for many, many years'

Speaking on board Air Force One, Mr Trump said:

We have been treated unfairly and have made terrible trade deals with China for many, many years. That's one of the things we are going to be talking about.

Mr Trump promised during the 2016 campaign to stop what he called the theft of American jobs by China and rebuild the country's manufacturing base. 

9:10PM

Xi Jinping greeted by Rex Tillerson

China's President Xi Jinping arrived in Florida earlier this afternoon for meetings with President Donald Trump.

The People's Republic of China President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan arrive at Palm Beach International Airport on Thursday, April 6, 2017 in West Palm Beach Credit: afp

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

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson walks with Chinese President Xi Jinping after he arrived at Palm Beach International Airport April 6, 2017 in West Palm Beach Credit: Getty

 

9:06PM

Donald Trump: 'something should happen' in retribution for the chemical weapons strike

The US president has ordered his defence staff to develop options for a military strike against regime targets, according to several sources.

"I think what Assad did is terrible," Mr Trump said on board Air Force One on his way to meet Xi Jinping.

"I think what happened in Syria is a disgrace to humanity and he's there, and I guess he's running things, so something should happen."

It is Mr Trump's first major foreign policy test and James Mattis, the defence secretary, flew to Florida last night to brief the president on America's military options, one of which would be cruise missile strikes from Navy ships.

In a complete reversal from his statement a week ago, Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, said he now saw "no role" for Mr Assad in governing Syria in the future and urged Russia to reconsider its support for the regime.

Mr Tillerson said that "steps are under way" to work with international partners to build a coalition to remove Mr Assad and promised a “serious response” to the Idlib attack from the United States.

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