Trump, Aiming to Coax Xi Jinping, Bets on Flattery

Since his election, President Trump has gone from hammering China on trade policy to praising President Xi Jinping for his country’s response to North Korea. By ROBIN LINDSAY on Publish Date November 8, 2017. Photo by Doug Mills/The New York Times. Watch in Times Video »
BEIJING — President Trump heaped praise on President Xi Jinping of China on Thursday, blaming past American administrations for China’s yawning trade surplus with the United States and saying he was confident that Mr. Xi could defuse the threat from North Korea.

Mr. Trump’s warm words, on a state visit to China replete with ceremony but short of tangible results, showed a president doubling down on his gamble that by cultivating a personal connection with Mr. Xi, he can push the Chinese leader to take meaningful steps on North Korea and trade.
In public, Mr. Trump projected an air of deference to China that was almost unheard-of for a visiting American president. Far from attacking Mr. Xi on trade, Mr. Trump saluted him for leading a country that he said had left the United States “so far behind.” He said he could not blame the Chinese for taking advantage of weak American trade policy.

Behind closed doors, American officials insisted, Mr. Trump forcefully confronted Mr. Xi about the chronic trade imbalances between the two countries. He also pressed China to take tougher measures toward North Korea, including a suspension of oil shipments.

In neither case did the Chinese make significant concessions, nor did Mr. Trump express dissatisfaction with their response.
It was a remarkable moment in the story of China’s rise and America’s response to it, with Mr. Trump’s performance suggesting a tipping point in great-power politics. By concluding that the United States can better achieve its goals by flattering a Chinese leader than by challenging him, Mr. Trump seemed to signal a reversal of roles: the United States may now need China’s help more than the other way around.

Mr. Trump marveled at the reception Mr. Xi had given him, from a full-dress military parade in Tiananmen Square to a sunset tour of the Forbidden City. He congratulated him on consolidating power at a recent Communist Party congress, declaring, “Perhaps now more than ever we have an opportunity to strengthen our relationship.”

“You’re a very special man,” he told Mr. Xi in an appearance before reporters, at which they did not take questions.