From China’s alleged cheating in the global marketplace, to expansion of its military presence in the South China Sea, to President Donald Trump’s threats of giving nuclear weapons to Japan, the American president and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping will have no shortage of touchy topics to broach.
Indeed, the meeting “will be a very difficult one,” Trump tweeted last week. Here are the five most important issues the two leaders could confront when they meet in Florida this week at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.
North Korea is certain to be a topic of conversation between Trump and Xi. The rogue Communist dictatorship has been a frequent target of Trump’s ire — both before and after the election.
“North Korea is behaving very badly,” Trump tweeted in March. “They have been ‘playing’ the United States for years. China has done little to help!”
According to various reports, White House sources have claimed that Trump intends to use the U.S.-China trade relationship — which greatly benefits China — as leverage in order to pressure the Chinese into using their own relationship with North Korea to rein in the isolated dictatorship’s nuclear aggression.
It is obvious that the Trump Administration has absolutely no patience for North Korea’s antics. Rex Tillerson’s statement issued Wednesday, following North Korea’s launching of a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan, made that clear.
“The U.S. has spoken enough about North Korea,” Tillerson said, “We have no further comment.”
“Well they, I think [the Chinese are] grand champions at manipulation of currency. So I haven’t held back,” Trump said in February. “We’ll see what happens.” Indeed, Trump campaigned in part on the promise to “get tough” with China, and specifically said he would designate them as currency manipulators.
Given the timing of the meeting, however, if the subject does come up, it is likely to do so only in passing and will remain unsettled. When asked in February if the Treasury was planning on designating China as a currency manipulator, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that he would follow the department’s standard methods when it came to analyzing trading partners’ currency practices.
Those standard methods are reports on said practices which the department must publish twice a year — on April 15 and October 15. If the Trump administration does intend to designate China a currency manipulator, the world will know when the first report is published — just over a week from the Trump-Xi summit.
Another issue sure to come up is the United States’ massive trade deficits with China, another topic Trump brought up frequently while campaigning, and one which he has taken a marked interest in addressing.
“We can no longer have massive trade deficits and job losses,” Trump tweeted last Thursday.
South China Sea
Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea is another area of contention between the two nations that is sure to crop up during the Sunshine Summit. Emboldened by the perceived weakness of the Obama administration, the Chinese began an aggressive campaign of artificial-island building in the South China Sea, a region they believe to be rightfully their territory.
“We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that first, the island-building stops, and second, your access to those islands is also not going to be allowed,” said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during his confirmation hearing in January.
So far seven islands have been built in the region’s Spratly island chain. In April of last year, the Chinese landed a military plane on one of these islands, Fiery Cross Reef, in what was widely seen as a not-so-subtle assertion of power.
While the Chinese government maintains the islands are not aggressive in purpose, nor designed for military use, Fiery Cross Reef has a 10,000 foot-long runway — more than large enough to support long-range bombers. Needless to say, American allies in the region are getting nervous.
East China Sea
Unfortunately the South China Sea isn’t the only powder-keg in the region. The East China Sea is equally prone to become a region of open conflict, if not more so, due to a long-running dispute between China and Japan.
The Senkaku Islands, an uninhabited island chain that lies just 90 miles north of the Japanese island of Ishigaki, is currently Japanese territory but has long been claimed by China. China has been steadily escalating its aggression in the region for some time. The number of Japanese intercepts of Chinese aircraft has increased each year since 2008 — there were over 640 such intercepts between April and December of last year. Given the United States’ treaty obligations to Japan, a conflict between China and Japan over the Senkaku Islands stands a very real chance of escalating into a significant war.