Donald Trump is hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping today at his Florida resort Mar-a-Lago. It is the first meeting between the leaders of the world’s two largest economic powers. On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly attacked China, once accusing China of “raping” the United States. The meeting comes just a day after North Korea launched another ballistic missile test. In an interview with the Financial Times, Trump warned he would be willing to take unilateral action against North Korea, saying, “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.” We speak to Orville Schell, director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at Asia Society.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Donald Trump is hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping today at his Florida resort Mar-a-Lago. It’s the first meeting between the leaders of the world’s two largest economic powers. On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly attacked China.
DONALD TRUMP: We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country. And that’s what they’re doing. It’s the greatest theft in the history of the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Trump tweeted last week, quote, “The meeting next week with China will be a very difficult one in that we can no longer have massive trade deficits and job losses. American companies must be prepared to look at other alternatives,” unquote.
The meeting comes just a day after North Korea launched another ballistic missile test Wednesday. In an interview with the Financial Times, President Trump warned he would be willing to take unilateral action against North Korea, saying, quote, “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will,” unquote.
For more, we’re joined by Orville Schell, director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society, co-author of Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-First Century. His recent article in The Wall Street Journal, “China’s Once and Future Democracy.”
Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. What do you expect from today’s meeting at Trump’s golf resort, Mar-a-Lago?
ORVILLE SCHELL: Well, what’s so sort of alarming is that we really don’t know what to expect. And I think that grows out of the reality that Trump has no obvious, sort of well-spelled-out, comprehensive plan. So, we have a kind of a collision between what Trump says and then what more reasonable people in his administration often do. And there is a kind of a collision going on between those two principles, and we’ll have to wait and see what happens.
AMY GOODMAN: What about North Korea, since that’s key, the number one issue, it seems—we can’t know what will go on there—but with the ballistic missile once again being shot off?
ORVILLE SCHELL: Well, North Korea is something of a paradox, because, on the one hand, it is clearly the most dangerous and pressing issue for the U.S.; on the other hand, China has increasingly, I think, recognized it as in its interest to not have a nuclear North Korea. And they have made tremendous sort of advances in sort of that recognition in the last few years.
AMY GOODMAN: But aren’t they providing material?
ORVILLE SCHELL: They are. They have not gone in the full measure of devotion, in terms of squeezing off North Korea, imposing sanctions, shutting down their oil pipeline. Trading companies, banks still do business. The airline flies back and forth, the North Korean airline. So there’s much more they could do.
And I think there’s a—remote, but a possibility that Trump is desperate for a deal. And this is a place where I think he has most prospect, actually, of getting some kind of a deal. As I say, it’s still remote, because there is a convergent interest, although many things still divide the U.S. and China in regard to North Korea. So, I think that he’s had such trouble elsewhere, that he goes into this summit, and if he can’t come out of it with something emblematic of his dealmaking abilities, I think it will be a bit of a black eye for him.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: You suggested, though, Orville, earlier that it’s very difficult to anticipate what precisely and substantively will happen during this meeting, and that’s partially because Trump is apparently, in modern history, an administration—his administration has the most uncertain China policy. I want to ask you about one of the people who’s been crucial in his administration: Steve Bannon, who’s had a particularly antagonistic rapport—position vis-à-vis China. Now, he has just been removed from the National Security Council. Could you say what his positions have been and how his removal might impact Trump’s position?
ORVILLE SCHELL: Well, there is a group in the White House—Steve Bannon would be one, and also Peter Navarro, who’s head of the National Trade Council—who have taken a very—you know, a very hard line on China and even spoken of the prospect of war with China as being more than just a phantom. So, I think, though, that we’ve seen them somewhat marginalized or set aside. And people like Secretary of Defense Mattis—Tillerson has come into the mix a bit more, but he’s still rather nondescript—there are some leveler heads contending with these people who are in the White House and taking rather extreme positions.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Who are those leveler heads?
ORVILLE SCHELL: Well, I would say Secretary of Defense Mattis. I think the new head of the National Security Council. I think you have people—I think Rex Tillerson is—at least knows how to run a big company, at least knows how to have a strategy. But we simply don’t know how all the pieces are going to settle down. And we certainly don’t have any comprehensive plan for dealing with China.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what about on the trade deficit? I mean, that’s one of the key issues that’s likely to be discussed. During the presidential campaign, Trump compared the U.S. trade deficit with China to rape, saying, quote, “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country.”
ORVILLE SCHELL: Yes. I mean, he has made many extreme statements. He was going to impose an across-the-board tariff against China. He was going to declare them a currency manipulator, first day out. He’s not done that. And actually, those issues are really, I think, less pressing than issues like North Korea and also the unlevel playing field for trade and investment. China risks losing the support, which has been traditionally very strong, of U.S. business, as supporters of a no-fault China policy, if you will. So, already before Trump’s election, the relationship was fraying. And now we have Trump coming in and making these extreme statements, which throws further off balance.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s been joked about that it’s at a golf resort—right?—that Xi is against golf, forbids Communist members from playing golf, has closed a hundred golf courses, calls it the millionaires’ game. But is there something deeper about this, that it’s at his private, you know, membership club of millionaires, in a golf place, where they won’t be playing golf, and also that Trump can control the press much more there—it’s his own private property—
ORVILLE SCHELL: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —can control who gets in and who doesn’t get in, and we don’t know, because we don’t get the logs of the Mar-a-Lago visitors?
ORVILLE SCHELL: Well, wherever they would have the summit, it would be incredibly tightly controlled, whether it’s Sunnylands or Mar-a-Lago or Camp David. But I do think there’s a certain irony, you know, about Xi Jinping, the party general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, showing up at a place like Mar-a-Lago, while he’s conducting an anti-corruption campaign. On the other hand, this is Donald Trump. I mean, this is emblematic Donald Trump. And so, this is sort of the equivalent of Bush’s ranch for Xi Jinping.
AMY GOODMAN: You’ve said democratic ideals have deep roots in modern Chinese history.
ORVILLE SCHELL: Which is to say that China has a long tradition of democratic sentiment, that’s bubbled up again and again over the last century. But, of course, it also has a deep tradition, that’s millennia-long, of autocracy. And throughout history, these two things have collided, at least in modern history. But, yes, China has a rich tradition of democratic sentiment that keeps returning.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to continue this conversation and post it online at democracynow.org. Orville Schell is director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society and co-author of Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-First Century. His recent article in The Wall Street Journal, we’ll link to, “China’s Once and Future Democracy.”
That does it for our broadcast. On Friday night, I’ll be speaking at Su Teatro Performing Arts Center in Denver, Colorado. That’s April 7th. On April 8th, I’ll be in Castlegar in British Columbia. You can go to our website at democracynow.org. And then we’ll be beginning to travel around the country in our 50-city tour. You can go to our website to see all the cities, from coast to coast.