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US-China relations under spotlight as Trump praises 'highly respected' Xi

Donald Trump pressed China to do more to rein in North Korea and said bilateral trade had been unfair to the United States, but lauded Xi’s pledge that China would be more open to foreign firms.

US President Donald Trump (L) gestures next to China's President Xi Jinping during a business leaders event at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on 9 November 2017. Picture: AFP

BEIJING - US President Donald Trump praised Chinese leader Xi Jinping as “highly respected” on Friday as he left Beijing for Vietnam, ending a visit which Chinese media declared set a “new blueprint” for handling US-China relations and differences.

Trump pressed China to do more to rein in North Korea and said bilateral trade had been unfair to the United States, but lauded Xi’s pledge that China would be more open to foreign firms.

The two also oversaw the signing of about $250 billion in commercial deals, but there was little progress reported on US firms complaints about market access or US government probes into issues like intellectual property theft.

Shortly before flying off to Vietnam, where he will attend the APEC summit of Asia Pacific leaders, Trump tweeted: “My meetings with President Xi Jinping were very productive on both trade and the subject of North Korea”.

“He is a highly respected and powerful representative of his people. It was great being with him and Madame Peng Liyuan!” Trump added, referring to Xi’s wife.

Trump reiterated comments from the previous day that he didn’t blame China for the trade difficulties between the two countries.

“I don’t blame China, I blame the incompetence of past Admins for allowing China to take advantage of the US on trade leading up to a point where the US is losing $100’s of billions. How can you blame China for taking advantage of people that had no clue? I would’ve done same!”

China lavished attention on Trump and his wife Melania during their visit, with Xi personally chaperoning them on a tour of the Forbidden City, part of what the Chinese government referred to as a “state visit plus”.

There were no obvious gaffes, and Trump and Xi seemed to enjoy being in each other’s company.

At a banquet on Thursday in the Great Hall of the People, Trump and Xi dined on coconut chicken soup, spicy chicken, stewed beef with tomatoes and grouper fillets.

Trump came to China pledging to ask Xi to play a bigger role in reining in North Korea, whose repeated nuclear and missile tests have angered both Washington and Beijing.

Xi, at least in public, went no further than reiterating China’s determination to achieve denuclearisation through talks.

Chinese state media on Friday said the tone and outcome of Trump’s visit had been largely positive, saying Trump and Xi were setting a new blueprint for handling relations and managing their differences.

“China has tried its utmost, even at the sacrifice of Sino-North Korean relations,” influential tabloid the Global Times wrote in its editorial.

“Trump has gradually learned that Beijing is indeed making selfless contributions to promoting the denuclearisation of the peninsula. He can’t demand more.”

China has repeatedly said it is committed to enforcing United Nations sanctions against North Korea, which does some 90% of its trade with China, but that more efforts need to be made to get everyone back to the negotiating table.

“Although the differences that had been pestering bilateral ties have not instantly disappeared, the most important takeaway from their talks in Beijing has been the constructive approach to these issues the two leaders demonstrated,” the official China Daily said in an editorial.

“Both expressed their willingness to work with, instead of against, the other in dealing with the differences between their two countries, in particular over trade and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear programme,” it added, using North Korea’s formal name.

Su Xiaohui of the Foreign Ministry think-tank, the China Institute of International Studies, wrote in a front page commentary of the overseas edition of the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily that Sino-US cooperation was the only correct choice for both countries.

“A new blueprint for China-US relations is gradually unfolding,” Su wrote.

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