Andrew Nathan on Chinese President’s Visit
It won’t be the usual state visit when Xi Jinping, president of the People’s Republic of China, arrives for a visit with President Donald Trump on April 6. but at Mar a Lago, the historic hotel and golf club in Palm Beach, Fla., which is owned by Trump and has become the de facto southern White House. The Chinese are normally sticklers for protocol, notes political scientist Andrew Nathan, and would have wanted the traditional treatment given a head of state an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn, an Oval Office meeting, a state dinner.
“They would have insisted on that as a matter of face, but I think they’re trying to find a way to work with Trump, who is different from all other American presidents than they are used to because he is so unpredictable,” said Nathan, the Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science, an expert on Chinese politics and foreign policy. ” I think they’re playing this game the Trump way andgetting what they understand is the top level of treatment in the Trump universe. In that way they get access, and it shows flexibility on the part of the Chinese leadership.”
Nathan is a longtime chronicler and keen observer of Chinese politics and geopolitics, despite having been banned from the country after the publication ofThe Tiananmen Papers, a cache of secret official documents about the 1989 demonstrations that he co edited. He discussed the Chinese state visit with Columbia News.
Q. Trump, like most American presidents before him, wants the Chinese to help deal with the North Korean threat, although unlike his predecessors he says so in tough sounding 140 character tweets. The Chinese answer is that they don’t have as much influence as Trump thinks they do. With his suggestion of a military option, Trump has only reaffirmed the existential threat to Pyongyang that drives their nuclear program. The Chinese would say that the way to begin is to start building trust with the North Koreans by making some kind of initial concession. I think that agenda item will lead to disappointment for Trump.
Q. The Chinese are in an advantageous position here, because Trump is virtually a blank slate on these issues, and they’re in to see him before he has a full senior staff with Asian expertise. Trump is liable to look at these discussions in a narrow bilateral context and think, “we can get along with these guys,” and not see how it affects our allies.
Q. There is the $400 million that Anbang Insurance was considering investing in a Fifth Avenue building owned by Kushner, an investment that has been derailed but it could come up again in another form. There are many ways to cooperate publicly and privately, and the Chinese are very skillful at that. The Chinese are also unhappy about restrictions on investment in the United States, which have prevented them from buying more high tech firms and acquiring technology. companies or operations, and which has the power to veto foreign investment. So a big ask for Xi is to reduce restrictions on investments here. Trump can give this to Xi and call it job creation. The risk is that doing so would risk further leaking of our advanced technology to a major manufacturing rival.
Q. Xi will want to convince Trump that such moves would be dangerous. And then there is the South China Sea, where a number of Southeast Asian countries claim maritime rights, but China has built man made islands and started aggressively patrolling the seas. posture in the region, and if the Americans would just stop patrolling so actively and colluding with other countries that have competing claims, there would be no crisis. military or with our Asian allies if Trump accepts that argument.