BEIJING (AP) — After repeatedly bashing China on the campaign trail, President Donald Trump met his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping for the first time last week at Trump’s Florida estate.
In speeches, Trump had labeled Beijing a “tremendous problem,” accusing it of unfairly manipulating its currency and trying to “rape our country” with unfair trade policies. Shortly after his election, he upended decades of diplomatic precedent by taking a call from the president of Taiwan and suggested he might use the island China considers its own territory as a bargaining chip in China-U.S. relations.
Since taking office, however, Trump has endorsed the “One China” policy that has underwritten U.S. relations with China for decades and backed off on his threats to impose a 45 percent import tax on Chinese goods and formally declare China a currency manipulator.
While in Florida, Xi said the two delegations established a good working relationship, and Trump told reporters that he and Xi made “tremendous progress” in their talks, but neither leader was specific. Observers said the meeting appeared to indicate Trump recognized the importance of keeping ties stable between the world’s two largest economies.
Following the meeting, here’s how a selection of people in Beijing, Hong Kong and Taipei, Taiwan, view America at this early stage of Trump’s presidency.
Housewife Wang Haiping, 44, said she sees frictions ahead as Trump seeks to maintain U.S. dominance over a rising China.
“Trump certainly wants the U.S. to remain the most powerful country in the world, but the fact is that China might catch up with the U.S. in a few years,” Wang said.
Wang said she wants to send her 13-year-old daughter to the U.S. for college study, but is concerned about hardening attitudes toward foreigners under the administration.
“Before I send my child to the U.S. to study, I probably need to ask again: ‘Is the U.S. still a safe place?’ As minority groups become less accepted in American society, the U.S. is no longer an ideal destination for Chinese students to study.”
Du Jiarui, 65, retired from a state-owned quality inspection company, said he thought the Trump-Xi meeting was productive and went a long way in promoting good China-U.S. relations, which also benefit other countries.
“President Trump is not a person who behaves according to the rules,” said Du, who helped to import American industrial technology and products during his career. As to whether Trump’s policies will be good for both Americans and people of other countries, “You really need to wait and see,” Du said.
“There are still some potential risks over the South China Sea and trade issues, and I do hope the two governments can handle these issues properly,” said Du, referencing China’s increasingly robust assertions of its territorial claim to virtually the entire strategic waterway in which the U.S. navy has long operated.
Businessman Dennis Shia, 50, thinks that Trump’s trade policies could be ultimately self-defeating.
“For products like ours, America totally depends on imports so they should not make policies that are unfavorable (to the import countries),” said Shia, the CEO of a lighting manufacturer, most of whose products are sold to the U.S. and Canada. “This will only increase the price paid by their consumers.”
“We did think the U.S. might raise the import tax, but we don’t worry that America will suddenly start manufacturing on a large scale what we are making,” Shia said. He has been considering exporting half-finished goods to America and so the finishing process can be done there and treated as American-made under tax laws.
Politics and military disputes could also upset the China-U.S. trading relationship, Shia said.
“At the moment, China needs America a lot more than how America needs China,” Shia said. “The U.S. buys a lot more Chinese goods than the amount of American goods sold to China. In this way, America has more bargaining power than us. I can say it is very effective for them to use an economic strategy.”
Lin Fei-fan, 28, a political science graduate student at Taiwan National University, was chiefly concerned with Trump’s policy toward Taiwan after he backed down over the “One China” policy in keeping with Beijing’s wishes.
“From Taiwan’s point of view, we don’t want Taiwan to become a bargaining chip at their negotiating table,” said Lin, who had been a leader of the “Sunflower Movement,” a group of student protesters who opposed closer relations between Taiwan and the mainland and occupied the national legislature and premier’s officer in 2014.
The movement helped propel Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party into the presidency in last year’s elections. China has since given her the cold shoulder, cutting off contacts between the two governments in June and bringing diplomatic and economic pressure to bear in hopes of compelling her to sign on to Beijing’s political formula that Taiwan and mainland China constitute a single Chinese nation.
Although the U.S. State Department said before the meeting that Washington had “moved on” from the Taiwan issue, Lin said it was too early to tell what the outcome of the meeting between Trump and Xi would be.
AP journalists Peng Peng in Beijing, Josie Wong in Hong Kong, and Johnson Lai in Taipei, Taiwan, contributed to this report.
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