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In China, Trump Talks Trade & North Korea, Ignoring Climate Change & Crackdown on Human Rights

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We go to Beijing for an update on President Trump’s meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping as part of his five-nation trip to Asia. Trump used the talks to call on China to sever ties with North Korea, and address the U.S. trade deficit with the country he once accused of “raping” the United States. Human rights activists have urged him to use his trip to discuss climate change and challenge China over its crackdown on dissidents and call for the release of political prisoners. We speak with Joanna Chiu, China correspondent for Agence France-Presse, and Rajan Menon, professor of political science at the Powell School at the City University of New York and senior research fellow in the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We begin today’s show in Beijing, where President Trump is in talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, following a lavish welcome on Wednesday that was billed as a “state visit-plus” and included the first state dinner for a U.S. president inside the Forbidden City. The welcoming ceremony outside Beijing’s Great Hall of the People was broadcast live on state television—unprecedented treatment for a visiting leader. Trump used the talks to call on China to sever ties with North Korea.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The United States is committed to the complete and permanent denuclearization of North Korea. So important. China can fix this problem easily and quickly. And I am calling on China and your great president to hopefully work on it very hard. I know one thing about your president: If he works on it hard, it will happen. There’s no doubt about it. They know.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Before arriving in Beijing, Trump used an address to the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, to deliver a stern message to China, North Korea’s biggest trade partner. North Korean state media responded in a statement Wednesday, saying the United States should, quote, “oust the lunatic old man from power” and withdraw its hostile policy “in order to get rid of the abyss of doom.” Meanwhile, on Wednesday, China insisted it is already fully enforcing U.N. sanctions. This is Chinese President Xi Jinping.

PRESIDENT XI JINPING: [translated] Regarding the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, we reaffirm that we are staunchly committed to realizing the denuclearization of the peninsula and upholding the international nuclear nonproliferation system. Both sides will continue to strictly enact all U.N. Security Council resolutions. And at the same time, we are committed to continuing to solve the North Korean nuclear issue through dialogue and talks.

AMY GOODMAN: During President Trump’s China visit, the leaders of the world’s two largest economies discussed their trade deficit. On the campaign trail, Trump bashed China’s trade policies, once accusing China of “raping” the United States. This is Trump then.

DONALD TRUMP: We have a $500 billion deficit, trade deficit, with China. We’re going to turn it around. And we have the cards. Don’t forget, we’re like the piggy bank that’s being robbed. We have the cards. We have a lot of power with China. When China doesn’t want to fix the problem in North Korea, we say, “Sorry, folks, you’ve got to fix the problem,” because we can’t continue to allow China to rape our country. And that’s what they’re doing.

AMY GOODMAN: So that was President Trump on the campaign trail, when he was, well, just candidate Trump. On Wednesday in Beijing, he struck a more conciliatory tone.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Right now, unfortunately, it is a very one-sided and unfair one. But—but I don’t blame China. After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens? I give China great credit. But in actuality, I do blame past administrations for allowing this out-of-control trade deficit to take place and to grow.

AMY GOODMAN: Roughly $250 billion in deals with U.S. companies are expected to be announced during Trump’s visit.

Human rights activists and even Trump’s fellow Republicans have urged him to use his trip to challenge China over its crackdown on dissidents and call for the release of political prisoners. Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Chris Smith issued a statement urging him to raise the forced isolation and ongoing surveillance of the wife of the late Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo.

Since arriving in China, where Twitter is banned, Trump has tweeted at least five times. A White House official said Trump would, quote, “tweet whatever he wants.” Trump is on a five-nation tour in Asia and has already visited South Korea and Japan. He goes next to Vietnam, where he’s expected to meet with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and then on to the Philippines.

We’re going now to Beijing, China, where we’re joined by Joanna Chiu, China correspondent for Agence France-Presse.

Joanna, it’s great to have you with us. Can you talk about the significance of Trump’s trip to China and also talk about the reaction of the Chinese people to the American president?

JOANNA CHIU: Right. So, thanks for having me. It seems like Trump’s visit, his first visit as president to China, has gone without a hitch. As you said, he had a very lavish welcome. He was the only foreign leader in recent history to dine in the Forbidden City palace. And today, he just had—he’s wrapping up another state dinner with President Xi, where he showed a video of his granddaughter, Arabella, singing in Mandarin Chinese. And that went over well.

So, as far as we can tell, the visit was successful. And Trump and his counterpart seem to have reached some consensus on some of the big issues that have been points of tension between the two countries. I think a highlight was trade. We were—some reporters were surprised at the tone that Trump gave during his remarks today. While it was softened from what he was like during the campaign trail, it was quite tough. At the same time, he also lavished a lot of praise on Xi Jinping, and the two leaders seemed very comfortable around each other. So, it seems like it went well. As you said, human rights wasn’t brought up as a focus. Neither was the climate. So, it seemed like the talks focused on trade and on what China and the U.S. could do on the North Korean nuclear peninsula issue.


JOANNA CHIU: As far as the reception from the Chinese—mm-hmm?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Sorry, Joanna, I wanted to ask you, just to put this into some context: Why is it that China has granted Trump such an extraordinary—in fact, unprecedented—welcome, including a state dinner in the Forbidden City, the first time a U.S. president has received such treatment?

JOANNA CHIU: Yeah, so reporters did ask that question yesterday to the Foreign Ministry in Beijing, and they said that it’s what a host country should do. They said that Trump received a similar lavish welcome from the Japanese before he came to China. So that’s how they addressed why he got this big welcome.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain what the Forbidden City is.

JOANNA CHIU: So, the Forbidden City, it’s right in the center of Beijing. It’s right in the center. It’s where emperors for different dynasties had their center of power. So it’s a very symbolic place. And it’s unprecedented that they would shut down the whole thing—it’s a big tourist attraction—to host the president and Melania.

AMY GOODMAN: To say the least, it’s a different tone that he is adopting. I mean, it’s not just tone. He talked about China “raping” the U.S., on the campaign trail, fiercely went after China, and now said it’s not actually China’s fault. He understands why a country would take advantage of another country on behalf of its own people. He blamed past administrations—clearly, the Obama administration. Can you talk about your thoughts? To a good deal of applause when he said that.

JOANNA CHIU: Yes. Yeah, that was quite an unexpected and cheeky statement. It wasn’t as harsh it was—he was like earlier, but it was quite tough. And people were applause—people were clapping, but in a quite an awkward way. They were surprised by the tone he had.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, Trump had repeatedly attacked China, at one point saying, “I’m going to instruct my treasury secretary to label China a currency manipulator.” So, what do the trade talks mean right now? What is Trump trying to get? Trump, who seems to be at his weakest level in this year, in terms of popularity in the United States—

JOANNA CHIU: Well, he’s trying to reduce the trade deficit that the U.S. is currently—

AMY GOODMAN: —and President Xi has consolidated power.

JOANNA CHIU: —running with China, at as much as $350 billion. And the $250 billion in the U.S.-Chinese business deals that were signed today, analysts say that they’re not going to do much to reduce this really big trade deficit.

AMY GOODMAN: I was just asking that question about Trump at his lowest popularity in the United States now, at a time when President Xi has consolidated power. And if you can talk about President Xi in China, how he is seen, and what this—him being at his point of greatest strength right now is all about? We’re talking to Joanna Chiu, who is the China correspondent for Agence France-Presse. We’re going to—

JOANNA CHIU: Hello? Can you hear me?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, Joanna, we can hear you. I was just asking about the—


AMY GOODMAN: Can you hear me now, Joanna? We’ll go to a break, and we’ll come back. We’re talking to Joanna Chiu in Beijing, China. She is the China correspondent for the Agence France-Presse. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Run or Hide” by Run River North. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. We’re speaking about President Trump’s visit to China right now, part of his five-Asian-nation trip. He’s headed on to Vietnam, where he may be meeting with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and then to the Philippines. We’re joined in Beijing, China, by Joanna Chiu, who’s the China correspondent for Agence France-Presse, for AFP, and Rajan Menon, professor of political science at the Powell School at the City University of New York, senior research fellow in the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University, as well.

Professor Menon, let me put that question to you, about Xi at his greatest strength right now, the president of China, and Trump at his weakest point in popularity and how he’s seen within his own party. The elections just took place, a referendum on Trump, and he lost badly.

RAJAN MENON: Good morning, Amy. There is quite a contrast. As you know, last year, there was a party—last month, there was a party congress in China. Xi came out in a very powerful position. There is now something called “Xi Jinping Thought.” Contrast that with Mr. Trump, the last I looked, his popularity ratings around below 40 percent. The Russia controversy continues to dog him. There’s no legislation that he’s gotten through Congress. So it is a significant contrast, no doubt.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, you know, on Tuesday, Trump told—when he was speaking in Seoul, he said that the U.S. stands ready to attack North Korea over its nuclear weapons program. The question is—and now he’s just been in China—how much leverage does China have on North Korea? And what does Trump expect from China?

RAJAN MENON: To hear Mr. Trump say it and the American foreign policy establishment say it, you would think that if Xi Jinping picked up the phone and called Kim Jong-un and said, “I want you to dismantle your nuclear facilities,” he would do that. That is a complete myth. For one thing, there’s an enormous amount of bad blood between North Korea and China. And the tougher China is and we are on North Korea, the more likely they are to hang on to their nuclear weapons. That’s the first thing.

The second thing is that the Chinese already voted for the very tough U.N. sanctions in August and September. Ninety-six percent of North Korea’s trade is with China, but the Chinese don’t want to asphyxiate, to choke the regime to death, for fear that it will collapse. That collapse would have immediate consequences for them economically and strategically. For one thing, in the long term, they, the Chinese, cannot exclude the possibility that a collapse in North Korea would mean, down the line, a unified Korean Peninsula aligned to the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Joanna Chiu, you’re speaking to us from Beijing. You’re covering extensively President Trump’s trip. How is North Korea seen in China?

JOANNA CHIU: So the Chinese see North Korea as their neighbors. And generally, the Chinese have a pretty favorable view of people they share a border with. There is a lot of concern about all this nuclear rhetoric. And China has said repeatedly, in response to criticism from the U.S. and other international bodies, that it completely, faithfully implements the U.N. Security Council resolutions, including sanctions. And these sanctions, as you know, has increased in the past year.

What we don’t know, because there are no independent checks at the borders, is how well China really is reinforcing these sanctions. For example, just anecdotally, I visited the border with North Korea a couple months ago, and people there told me that they still get gold and silver from North Korea, even though it’s been long banned under the U.N. sanctions. And just a few weeks ago, I went to some North Korean restaurants in Beijing and asked about their business, and they said every day they get seafood imports from North Korea to Beijing. And that’s also against the sanctions. So, it’s unclear how well China is enforcing, but definitely China is saying they’re doing all they can.

And their tone is that they should not be the ones who shoulder all the blame. They want the U.S. to reduce its more inflammatory rhetoric against Kim Jong-un and his regime, in order to bring all parties back to the negotiating table.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Joanna, could you, very quickly—you’ve been writing about this. The human rights situation in China now under President Xi Jinping?

JOANNA CHIU: Well, it’s quite severe under Xi Jinping’s first five years as president. We have seen an unprecedented crackdown on people in civil society, from lawyers to bloggers to journalists to primary school teachers. It’s ironic that Trump is tweeting while he’s inside China’s firewall, but people in China have been arrested just for social media posts they put on Chinese websites that are a little bit critical of their government. And recently, just this week, on Tuesday, a really famous veteran pro-democracy writer, Yang Tongyan, he passed away of brain cancer on medical parole. So he was still in police custody. And this is the pattern that we’ve been seeing, that dissidents are being jailed and then—

AMY GOODMAN: Joanna Chiu, speaking to us from Beijing, China. We just lost her satellite, lost it at the bottom of the hour, China correspondent for Agence France-Presse. Rajan Menon’s still with us, professor of political science at Powell School at City University of New York. If you could continue what she was saying, this issue of human rights in China right now? It’s very interesting that here is President Trump lauding President Xi in China while at the same time the Trump administration has just cracked down on Cuba and made it extremely difficult for individuals to visit Cuba, reversing the thaw in relations that President Obama had initiated.

RAJAN MENON: There is a very big contrast between the tone and the demeanor that Trump struck in South Korea and in Japan compared to China. He clearly does not want to do anything at all to embarrass Mr. Xi. He did not meet with dissidents. He didn’t bring up the issue of human rights. He soft-pedaled, as you noted, as you noted earlier, the trade deficit. And so, I would say, from the Chinese standpoint, this summit has gone very well for them. Less so, I think, for Mr. Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of President Trump going to Vietnam tomorrow? And if they work out the framework—I think that’s the terms they’re using—he will be meeting with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in Vietnam.

RAJAN MENON: Correct. Well—

AMY GOODMAN: And the role Vietnam—Russia could also play with North Korea?

RAJAN MENON: Correct. The Russians can play a role, but much less of a role than China. As I pointed out, 96 percent of the trade that North Korea does is with China. But the Russians do have a residual influence. But much more importantly, Russian and Chinese views are closely aligned. But it is to China that he’s looking.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the significance, from your perspective, of this trip that President Trump has made? I mean, we know that when President Xi was in Florida, he made a deal with Trump’s daughter, with one of his advisers, Ivanka Trump, giving her exclusive copyrights on various of her products being sold in China. The significance of any kind of business deals being made? We know Trump famously, yesterday, in the middle of his address to the South Korean Assembly, where he was talking about taking on North Korea—and, of course, the threat of war with North Korea is more extreme than it’s ever been—he talked about his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey.

RAJAN MENON: There are business ties between the Trump Corporation and the Chinese. You mentioned Ivanka Trump. The Trump Corporation itself has about 123 trademarks. There is a building in New York, of which Mr. Trump is part owner, where the Chinese National Bank has lent about $950 million. So there are such ties. I think that those are not the things that are driving Trump. I think he wants some progress on the trade front. He wants some progress on the North Korean front. He’s gotten, really, not very much of either.

AMY GOODMAN: Is there anything you’d like to add, Professor Menon, on the significance of this overall Asia trip that he’s taking?

RAJAN MENON: Yes. One of the things that was interesting to me is that he was much tougher on the Japanese when it came to the trade deficit. Now, their trade deficit with the United States at the end of last year was about $70 billion. With China, it was $350 [billion]. That is five times as much. Yet he treated the China pretty much, as you pointed out, with kid gloves. He was much tougher on the Japanese. He told the Japanese, “Why do you just import cars into the United States? Why don’t you just make them here?” Well, the Japanese make 4 million units of vehicles here, and they have about 24 manufacturing plants. So the contrast between how he—

AMY GOODMAN: In the United States.

RAJAN MENON: Correct. So the contrast between how he dealt with the Japanese on the trade issue and the Chinese, I thought, was very telling.

AMY GOODMAN: Also selling billions of dollars of weapons on this trip.

RAJAN MENON: Correct, correct.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us, Rajan Menon, professor of political science at the Powell School at the City University of New York, senior research fellow at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia university.

When we come back, a humanitarian crisis in Yemen—cholera, famine, war. We’ll speak with a woman who founded a news agency there but had to leave because of death threats and now reports in exile about her home country. And we’ll talk about what’s happening in Saudi Arabia, as the prince consolidates power, as many people are arrested, and Saudi Arabia continues to bomb, with U.S. support, Yemen. Stay with us.

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