Chinese President Xi Jinping hosted his US counterpart Donald Trump at the Palace Museum within the Forbidden City, a historic site at the heart of the capital Beijing on Wednesday.
The two presidents, who have at times been at odds over how to deal with North Korea, met for tea at the Hall of the Embodied Treasures in the Museum with both first ladies in attendance.
Chinese news media showed Xi giving Trump and the first ladies a tour of the other main halls in the museum.
Trump’s three-day visit to China is part of a five-nation Asia tour which began with a trip to Japan on Sunday, but with pleasantries aside, both countries will enter intense talks on Thursday to deal with security in northeast Asia and the Pacific, as well as discussions on America’s huge trade deficit with China.
Two-way trade between the two countries last year stood at $578.6 billion, with only $116 billion of that amount accounting for US exports to China.
That resulted in a $347 billion trade deficit between Washington and Beijing, something that Trump has spoken at length about and criticized the Chinese for “unfair trade practices”.
Trump has also accused the Chinese of currency manipulation saying they were keeping the yuan currency intentionally low to drive their exports.
But the yuan is up about one per cent against the dollar year on year.
The Korean Crisis
Trump has hinted at the military option to “totally destroy” North Korea. He maintains that 25 years of cajoling and diplomatic efforts have failed to deter Pyongyang from further developing its ballistic missile and nuclear technologies.
But Trump has also pressured China to exert its influences as North Korea’s largest trading partner.
In late September, Chinese banks said they were ordered by the government to implement UN sanctions against North Korean companies. The Chinese Commerce Ministry also said it would shut down North Korean companies operating in China.
But even though China had strongly condemned North Korea for the number of violations regarding ballistic missile and nuclear tests in the past year, it is loathe to see its neighbor destablized.
Firstly, it is concerned about a wave of refugees fleeing across the China border if the government in Pyongyang collapses.
Secondly, China fears a war on the Korean Peninsula will threaten the entire Asia-Pacific region. It has several times cautioned against the war rhetoric emerging from Washington and maintained that any military conflict would be a lose-lose scenario.
Chinese media has called the US approach “reckless”.
Trump may press the Chinese to do more, but it is unlikely they will take the kinds of measures the Americans are looking for.
China’s longstanding policy is to calm tension and have all countries involved return to the six-party talks.
North Korea has traditionally blamed the US for the elevated state of tension and has said that joint South Korean-US military exercises are perceived as direct national threats to Pyongyang.
Both China and Russia have also strongly criticized the US decision to deploy the THAAD weapons system in South Korea saying it will ignite a weapons race in the region.
The US began in June to deploy parts of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system in South Korea and Japan.
Another point of contention will be the issue of Washington’s objection of Beijing’s role in the South China Sea. But it appears that Trump has pushed that down his priority list as he tries to curry favor and influence with China to exert more pressures on North Korea.
Beijing has traditionally held that Washington has meddled in the South China Sea, often to the point of incitement. The US conducts periodic air and naval patrols near the disputed islands – a move which has angered Beijing.
Beijing claims 90 per cent of the South China Sea, a maritime region believed to hold a wealth of untapped oil and gas reserves and through which roughly $4.5 trillion of ship-borne trade passes every year.
In the meantime, Xi will press Trump on climate change and the need for the US to return to the Paris Agreement on climate control, which was initially signed by former President Barack Obama just two years ago.
In June, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order to withdraw from the agreement citing that it was unfair to his country and that it required to be renegotiated so that it does not impose uneven restrictions on Washington.
With Syria having signed the accord earlier this week, the US is now the only country in the world to have walked away from the agreements.
The talks between the two presidents are likely to be very cordial; both have said that they maintained good relations with one another ever since Xi visited Trump in Key Largo, Florida last April. Following there talks in April, Trump said that “tremendous progress” had been achieved between both leaders.
More on China-US disagreements over North Korea
By Firas Al-Atraqchi for The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies