Trump, Xi agree on 100-day trade plan

US President Donald Trump (left) and China's President Xi Jinping walking along the front patio of the Mar-a-Lago estate after a bilateral meeting in Palm Beach, Florida, US, on April 7, 2017.
US President Donald Trump (left) and China's President Xi Jinping walking along the front patio of the Mar-a-Lago estate after a bilateral meeting in Palm Beach, Florida, US, on April 7, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

They aim to boost American exports to China and shrink huge US deficit, but no details given

Leaders of the world's two biggest economies have agreed on a 100-day plan to jack up American exports to China and shrink the huge trade deficit that bedevils Washington's ties with Beijing.

The plan, discussed by US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, was the most concrete outcome from the first summit between the superpowers at Mr Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate last week.

No details of the proposal were available but Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the speedy "100-day plan" was primarily aimed at cutting the US$347 billion (S$487 billion) trade deficit that is in China's favour.

The leaders, over two days of talks that ended on Friday, also agreed to establish a Cabinet-level framework for bilateral talks that would have four pillars: diplomacy and security; economy; law enforcement and cyber security; and social and cultural issues.  

They noted the urgency of the threat from North Korea's escalating weapons programme which is a source of concern for both nations. They also had a "candid discussion" on regional and maritime security, including global rules in the East and South China seas, said White House press secretary Sean Spicer .

Agence France-Presse quoted unidentified sources as saying that there was talk of a package of Chinese investments aimed at creating more than 700,000 American jobs - the same number China's regional rival Japan pledged during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's own Mar-a-Lago visit in February.

In return, AFP said, Mr Xi hoped for assurances from Mr Trump on withholding punitive tariffs on Chinese goods and on the delay of an American arms sale to Taiwan, at least until after a major Communist Party meeting later this year. No official confirmation was available.

Mr Xi left after a working lunch and a walk around Mar-a-Lago with his host. There was no joint statement or press conference.  But Mr Trump told the media: "I think we have made tremendous progress in our relationship with China.

"The relationship developed by President Xi and myself, I think, is outstanding."

Mr Xi, in his only public remarks, as he was sitting across from Mr Trump at Friday morning's extended bilateral meeting, praised his host for "excellent preparations" and a "warm reception". He said they had "in-depth and lengthy communications… and arrived at many common understandings".

Their "chemistry" was seized on by both the US and Chinese media. Equally, it was pointed out that no clear path forward had emerged on North Korea, among other issues.

Analysts noted Mr Trump had made an about-turn from his earlier rhetoric, when he had stressed America's trade deficit with China and accused China of "raping" the US and stealing American jobs.

"What struck me was the very positive rhetoric, especially from President Trump," said Ms Bonnie Glaser of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

But, in the absence of details, she cautioned: "Nobody knows if it is well founded or not."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 09, 2017, with the headline 'Trump, Xi agree on 100-day trade plan'. Print Edition | Subscribe