Trump predicts 'very difficult' China summit

Andrew BEATTY
The stakes are high for the first Sino-US summit under the presidency of Donald Trump, which takes place Thursday and Friday in Florida

US President Donald Trump predicted an upcoming meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping would be "very difficult" Thursday, laying out an adversarial tone ahead of a high-profile summit.

"The meeting next week with China will be a very difficult one," Trump tweeted, in apparent reference to the Mar-a-Lago meeting.

"We can no longer have massive trade deficits... and job losses. American companies must be prepared to look at other alternatives."

The summit at Trump's Florida residence would be the first face-to-face meeting between the heads of the world's two most powerful nations and leading economies.

It follows a rocky start to US-China relations under the billionaire politician, who has repeatedly blasted Beijing for its trade policies and reluctance to bring pressure on North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs.

The meeting, which is scheduled for April 6-7 and was confirmed by both countries Thursday, could be crucial in setting the tone of the relationship between the two powers in coming years.

The White House confirmed the meeting in a statement, saying that the leaders will "discuss global, regional, and bilateral issues of mutual concern."

Trump and his wife Melania will also host Xi and China's first lady Peng Liyuan for dinner, it added.

The resort's casual nature will allow Trump to receive the Chinese leader without the full pomp and circumstance of a state visit.

Just weeks ago the summit seemed a distant possibility after Trump infuriated Beijing with suggestions he might break from the US's long-standing One China Policy, which nominally acknowledges the Asian giant's claims over Taiwan without recognizing them.

In a conciliatory phone call in mid-February, the US president walked back controversial comments on Taiwan, creating an opening for Washington and Beijing to discuss a meeting.

"The summit could well be a peaceful combination of a strategic kumbaya and economic gift giving, before storms erupt later over trade, regional hotspots, and human resources-issues," according to Douglas Paal, Asia Director at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

- Tough tone -

But Trump's tough language on trade and increasing frustration about China's policies on North Korea could signal he is already willing to throw sand in the gears.

Relations have been strained by China's fierce opposition to a US missile defense system being rolled out in South Korea to protect against attacks from the North.

The US ambassador to the United Nations on Thursday said China can and must do more to force North Korea to halt its nuclear and missile programs.

And, amid reports that Pyongyang is preparing another banned nuclear test, Haley said Washington would not settle for holding another UN debate.

"I have no patience for it, and it is not helping anyone. And it's not about me. This administration has no patience for it," she said.

Trump's tweet and Haley's comments appeared to be orchestrated, coming just hours after both countries publicly announced Xi's visit, which had been in pipeline for weeks.

The tough tone could be a negotiating gambit for from a man who prides himself on mastering the "Art of the Deal."

Whatever the motive, it is likely to play well with a base of Trump supporters who wonder why Trump would meet Xi at all.

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