United States President Donald Trump flew to Florida on Thursday to hold his first meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, facing pressure to deliver trade concessions for some of his most fervent supporters and prevent a crisis with North Korea from spiraling out of control.
The leaders of the world’s two biggest economies are to greet each other at the president’s Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach, Florida, late in the afternoon and dine together with their wives, kicking off a summit that will conclude with a working lunch on Friday.
White House officials have set low expectations for the meeting, saying it will set the foundation for future dealings.
Trump promised during the 2016 campaign to stop what he called the theft of American jobs by China and rebuild the country’s manufacturing base. Many blue-collar workers helped propel him to his unexpected election victory on Nov. 8 and Trump wants to deliver for them.
The Republican president tweeted last week that the United States could no longer tolerate massive trade deficits and job losses and that his meeting with Xi “will be a very difficult one.”
Trump, a former real estate magnate, is still finding his footing in the White House and has yet to spell out a strategy for what his advisers called a trade relationship based on “the principal of reciprocity.”
“I don’t expect a grand bargain on trade. I think what you are going to see is that the president makes very clear to Xi and publicly what we expect on trade,” a US official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
US labor leaders say Trump needs to take a direct, unambiguous tone in his talks with Xi.
“President Trump needs to come away from the meeting with concrete deliverables that will restore production and employment here in the US in those sectors that have been ravaged by China’s predatory and protectionist practices,” said Holly Hart, legislative director for the United Steelworkers union.
The US official told Reuters that Washington expects to have to prepare its own actions to fight for US companies, such as pursuing World Trade Organization lawsuits.
“We have the legal tools and a lot of authorities that have not been exercised in the past to fight back and you now have the political will, from the president on down, to do that,” the official said.