04/05/2017, 19.01
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Xi-Trump meeting and the forgotten rights

by Bernardo Cervellera

The upcoming meeting (6-7 April) comes with fears and expectations. After fiery words, the US administration wants to boost mutual cooperation with “no conflict, no confrontation”. Chinese capital might finance Trump’s infrastructure plans. Will Trump be different from Clinton when it comes to dissidents?

Rome (AsiaNews) – The supreme leaders of China and the United States, Xi Jinping and Donald Trump, will meet tomorrow and Friday at the latter’s Mar-a-Lago estate, in Florida.

endly meeting came last Friday from diplomatic sources in the two countries. Around the world however, the tête-à-tête has raised fears and expectations.

Fears are based on Trump’s threat in the recent US presidential campaign to slap a 45 per cent tariff on China for manipulating its currency to boost exports at the expense of US jobs.

The US president also recently complained that Beijing was not doing enough to contain North Korea’s nuclear aspirations. Instead, he threatened to move unilaterally against Pyongyang, not ruling out military action.

For a moment, Trump also seemed to be calling into question Americaès commitment to the One China policy, a direct jab at Chinese nationalism and the mainland’s claim to the rebel island of Taiwan.

At the same time, some conciliatory signals have been made. The two leaders have spoken on the phone, the One China policy has been reaffirmed, and US Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson stated that “the US side is ready to develop relations with China based on the principle of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation”. Still, the latter will not be easy to achieve.

If Trump promised to put "America First" and make “America great", creating millions of new jobs in the US, with next October’s Communist Party Congress approaching and his leadership at stake, President Xi wants China to be treated as an “equal”. He needs results that showcase his “Chinese dream” and, as it were, “make China great”.

A trade war would be a disaster for the Asia-Pacific region, as well as the two big powers. China’s export-oriented development cannot lose the US market whilst the United States cannot readily do without cheap Chinese consumer goods, which save the average US household US$ 850 a year.

Some analysts are now saying that China could invest a portion of the capital destined for its ‘One belt, one road’, its new silk road, in the United States. Trump’s infrastructure plans might need up to US$ 8 trillion in financing. China’s participation might create new jobs and give Beijing room in the US economy.

This, however, would not touch the more intractable issues affecting bilateral relations. In Davos, Xi Jinping championed globalisation, but his country continues to place limits and duties on imports and joint ventures with foreign companies. The two parties might reach an agreement here.

One topic that will probably be missing at the meeting is human rights. In Washington, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) called on Trump not to overlook China’s political prisoners.

“As President Trump welcomes Chinese President Xi to Florida, we cannot forget the men and women who languish unjustly in prison, the family members who do not know the fate of their loved ones, and the professionals who have disappeared for simply doing their job,” CECC chairman Marco Rubio said in a statement.

“These people are not statistics,” Rubio added. “[T]hey are booksellers and pastors, writers and Nobel laureates, lawyers and rights defenders. While recognising the broad scope of US-China bilateral relations, it is unacceptable for President Xi to get a pass on human rights.”

For CECC co-chairman Chris Smith, Trump has an “historic opportunity” to make a difference.  “We too easily forget that behind the trade deficits and security concerns, real people pay a huge price for standing up for freedom. For this they are heroes and their unconditional release should be a prominent part of this week’s summit”.

Trump could use the occasion to be different from Hillary Clinton. In 2009, on her first trip to China as secretary of state, she told a reporter who asked her whether she discussed human rights, Clinton said everything was on table for discussion but US interests came first.

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