From online to offline, meanings and implications of the first face-to-face communication between Xi & Trump

China Plus Published: 2017-04-05 09:40:59
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From online to offline, the meanings and implications of the first face-to-face communication between Xi & Trump

By Wenshan Jia

The long anticipated first face-to-face meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and the US President Donald Trump will eventually take place at President Trump's private resort Mar-a-Lago in Florida, USA on April 6 and 7, 2017.  Preceding this meeting were a couple of phone calls and several pieces of correspondence between Xi and Trump since the election of Mr. Trump as the 45th President of the US. Such off-line exchanges back-grounded by a chain of good-willed meetings, mutual visits and exchanges between the diplomatic aides of Trump and the diplomatic aides of Xi, have laid a solid foundation for this upcoming face-to-face meeting between the two heads of state.  This Xi-Trump meeting is naturally the next logical step in the development of the US-China relations. Three questions may hover on the minds of readers: 1) What does this meeting mean? 2) What implications does this meeting have? 3) What may and may not get accomplished? 

To answer the first question, it appears that the US-China relations under the mindful Xi-Trump co-management has been taking a bottom-up and cumulative approach informed by pragmatism which is embraced by both Xi and Trump. The Chinese wisdom that face-to-face meetings and communication turn people into acquaintances and friends resonates very well with the American belief that good communication creates better relationships. Unsurprisingly, both Xi and Trump have high emotional quotient, and values communication and personal relationship building. While Xi emphasizes connectivity, particularly heart-to-heart connectivity among cultures and nation-states, as is evidenced in his Belt & Road proposal, Trump is heard saying on the media: " If you treat me well, I will treat you well."  The fact that Trump's invitation for Xi to visit him at Trump's private resort which Xi has accepted proves my observation to be true. Typically, if an American invites someone into his/her private residence, this is a very friendly gesture. It not only means that this American host will treat the guest very well during the visit, but also intends to build a personal relationship and tries to make a friend with this guest.  I am sure President Xi will reciprocate President Trump's friendly gesture in time. The fact that Mr. Xi, currently voted as the most popular global leader according to Bloomberg and about to serve his second term as China's president, has agreed and will travel all the way to the private resort of President Trump to communicate with President Trump face to face, shows Xi's high regard for President Trump as someone with more experience in age despite President Trump's "green handedness" in politics.  Typically, in the Chinese tradition, green-handed national leaders would come and visit more seasoned and more experienced national leaders first as a courtesy or ritual. Return visits to the less experienced leaders by the more seasoned leaders may occur afterwards. In conclusion, both sides have expressed a high-level of sincerity towards this meeting and look forward to this first face to face meeting. 

To answer the second question, this informal, and both relaxed and relaxing meeting and communication between the two heads of state of the world's top two leading global powers would not only make the citizens of the two countries to take a deep relief of sigh, but also loosen the tensions of the world community. After all, the receding echo of the sound and fury of the rollercoaster ride consisting of Mr. Trump's super-hawkish rhetoric against China on Trump's presidential campaign trail last year is still audible to the ears of the two national citizenries, the Asia-Pacific community, and the world community. However, the up-coming meeting of the two leaders will probably clear the heavy clouds in the minds of the people and commence a dialogue in many dimensions.  First, this meeting will constitute a commencement of a dialogue between an entrepreneur-turned politician Donald Trump and a sent down youth-turned career statesman Xi Jinping who may share their own experience about business, politics, and governance, and possibly even family and personal hobbies during the meeting.  Second, this meeting will constitute a commencement of a dialogue between the two apparently competing nations which are both increasingly afforded and constrained in their interlocking relations where a wide range of issues such as US-China bi-lateral economic relationship, North Korea, THAAD, South China Sea, and so on will get discussed. Third, it will constitute a commencement of a dialogue between populism and new globalism-the two competing forces vying to shape the new direction and the new order of the world. During the meeting, the two leaders may reach a higher level of understanding about each other's vision for the world and possibly reach some consensus. 

To answer the third question, to clarify and possibly reduce such incompatibilities between Xi and Trump as sketched above may constitute the exact very reason for this face-to-face communication. Such clarifications and possible reductions may not only help reduce the degree of uncertainty about US and China respectively and reduce the degree of uncertainty about the future of the US-China relations, but also help illuminate on the future direction of Asia and the world. It would be a reasonable expectation if this first face-to-face meeting turns out more as a session to lay a solid foundation for future problem solving sessions between the US and China than a problem-solving session itself. Given the highly unexpected yet pleasant surprises such as President Trump's affirmation of the One-China Policy and Secretary State Rex Tillerson's affirmation of President Xi Jinping's "big-power relations" policy for US-China relations characterized by non-conflict, non-confrontation, and mutual respect, some consensus will be identified and created through the first meeting to generate some tangible results soon afterwards which are beneficial to both the US and China in such aspects as trade, bilateral investment, and even joint collaborations on projects such as the One Belt-One Road and AIIB, and issues of security such as North Korea, THAAD, and South China Sea and so on . 

International politics can and should be personalized and humanized to maximize mutual gains in today's world known as "the global village". Both President Xi and President Trump are about to inherit and enrich this tradition both because of and despite many challenges. We wish them a good conversation over "Bon Appetite"! 


Wenshan Jia, Ph. D., Professor, School of Communication, Chapman University

Research Fellow, the National Academy of Development & Strategy, Renmin University of China

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