BEIJING/WASHINGTON (AFP/REUTERS) – China’s President Xi Jinping will travel to Florida to meet US President Donald Trump from April 6 to 7, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Thursday (March 30).
The meeting will take place at Mr Trump’s resort, Mar-a-Lago, Mr Lu told reporters at a regular press briefing.
The visit announcement comes after a rocky start to the US-China relationship under Mr Trump, who has repeatedly blasted Beijing for its trade policies and reluctance to bring pressure on North Korea over the North's nuclear and missile programmes.
The White House said Trump would host Xi and “discuss global, regional, and bilateral issues of mutual concern.” Trump and his wife Melania will host Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan at a dinner next Thursday, a White House statement said.
A successful meeting could be crucial in setting the tone for the relationship between the world’s two largest economies in coming years.
US administration officials say North Korea, the large US trade imbalance with China and Beijing’s pursuit of expansive claims in the South China Sea will top the agenda.
Just weeks ago, the summit seemed a distant possibility after Mr Trump infuriated Beijing with suggestions he might break from the United States’ long-standing "One China" policy.
But in a conciliatory phone call in mid-February, Mr Trump walked back controversial comments on Taiwan, creating an opening for Washington and Beijing to discuss a meeting.
The call was quickly followed by successive visits by China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi to Washington and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Beijing, where the details of the meetings were reportedly hammered out.
Mr Xi would be the second world leader since Mr Trump took office to visit Mar-a-Lago, which Mr Trump has dubbed the “Winter White House”. The resort’s casual nature will allow Mr Trump to receive the Chinese leader without the full pomp and circumstance of a state visit.
Diplomatic sources in Beijing told AFP that the meetings will primarily focus on giving the two leaders an opportunity to get to know each other, likely reserving tough issues for future talks.
“The summit could well be a peaceful combination of a strategic kumbaya and economic gift giving, before storms erupt later over trade, regional hotspots, and human resources-issues,” according to Dr Douglas Paal, Asia Director, at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The US President hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the estate in February in a meeting billed as an opportunity to bond over rounds of golf in an environment conducive to building the kinds of personal relationships that Mr Trump is said to view as important.
Mr Xi is, however, unlikely to join Mr Trump on the links.
China’s ruling Communist party frowns on golf as a bourgeois luxury and has taken steps to crack down on the courses in China, which it associates with corruption.