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Trump-Xi summit: Mar-a-Lago makes good sense for both presidents (Interview)

《南华早报》 2019-03-02

Using Mar-a-Lago as the venue for his summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping next month will be a boost for US President Donald Trump’s domestic ambitions and vindicate his hawkish approach towards China, analysts said.

The assessment came after Beijing accepted Washington’s choice of Trump’s private resort in Florida for the two leaders to seal a trade deal.

Preliminary preparations are now under way, but a specific date for the meeting has yet to be announced.

Professor Wu Xinbo, Dean of the Institute of International Studies and Director of the Centre for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, said Trump needed a trade agreement to be reached in the US to help him stave off domestic challenges.

“Trump needs an agreement which benefits him domestically,” he said. “He no longer has an upper hand in the trade talks as time is not on his side.”

Wu said Trump’s challenges included slowing economic growth, a Russia investigation in which he is implicated and the 2020 presidential campaign.

On Tuesday, US Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell warned of a slowing US economy this year and other risks, including a global slowdown, volatile financial markets and uncertainty about US trade policy.

Some in US fear Donald Trump will settle for a weak trade deal with China

Wu said the choice of Mar-a-Lago also made sense as it was America’s turn to host the top-level talks, after the two presidents met first in Florida in April 2017 and then in Beijing seven months later.

“It will be a working visit, not an official state visit, with the focus on sealing a trade agreement,” he said. “Meeting at Trump’s private resort will be a show of the good personal relationship between the two presidents.”

Trump revealed his meeting with Xi was to be in Florida when he welcomed Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He to the White House last week, at which time he also announced the US would delay increasing tariffs on US$200 billion of Chinese imports following the talks.

A deal to the end the trade war between China and the US may be signed next month.

George Yeo, who served as Singapore’s foreign minister from 2004-11, agreed that a meeting at Mar-a-Lago would be good for Trump.

“A good agreement [on trade] would be good for Trump’s domestic politics,” he said. “It will vindicate Trump’s tough approach towards China.”

China’s former vice-minister of commerce Wei Jianguo, who is now vice-secretary general of the Chinese Centre for International Economic Exchanges, said it was “very likely” the two presidents would meet in Mar-a-Lago.

A face-to-face meeting was key to ending the trade war between the world's two largest economies, he said, adding that a trade deal for them to sign off should be available by the end of March.

(Source:South China Morning Post, Correspondent: Lu Zhenhua)