BEIJING – President Donald Trump blended tough talk with chumminess at a U.S.-China summit that emphasized personal rapport over progress on deep-seated differences, calling Xi Jinping "a very special man."
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The two countries' rivalry will be more clearly on display as the two presidents move on to Vietnam on Friday and outline conflicting visions for Asia's future to regional leaders. Mr. Trump is promoting a "free and open" region to counter the Chinese president's drive to make his country its dominant power.
In Beijing on Thursday, Mr. Trump spoke in unusually conciliatory tones during joint appearances with Mr. Xi, hailing their "very good chemistry" while expressing hope for forceful action from Beijing.
Mr. Trump blamed past U.S. administrations, rather than Beijing, for what he described as a "very one-sided and unfair" trade relationship, adding, "but we'll make it fair and it'll be tremendous to both of us."
While thanking Mr. Xi for his recent efforts to restrict trade and banking ties with North Korea, he urged further steps to press Pyongyang to halt its nuclear-weapons program. "China can fix this problem easily and quickly," he said. "You know one thing about your president: If he works on it hard, it will happen. There's no doubt about it."
Mr. Xi smiled broadly at some of Mr. Trump's remarks, including that China wasn't to blame for the trade imbalance. China posted a near $27 billion trade surplus with the U.S. in October.
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Mr. Trump did include tougher talk in his pledge to tackle imbalances: "We must immediately address the unfair trade practices that drive this deficit," he said. "We really have to look at access, forced technology transfer and the theft of intellectual property, which just by and of itself is costing the United States and its government at least $300 billion a year."
Mr. Xi kept his own statements more formal, saying friction between China and the U.S. was unavoidable but the countries should strengthen communication and cooperation in Asia-Pacific affairs. "I told President Trump that the Pacific Ocean is big enough for both China and the U.S.," he said.
Neither leader took questions at a joint press conference.
"It appears Trump opted to publicly play down U.S.-China differences, praise the Chinese people for what they have achieved, and give Xi Jinping face," said Bonnie Glaser, an expert on China at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
The priority for both sides appears to have been to develop the personal connection between the two leaders during what Chinese officials called a "state-visit-plus." In addition to a state banquet on Thursday, Mr. Xi and his wife escorted the U.S. first couple on a private tour of the Forbidden City with dinner on Wednesday, the first American president to receive such treatment from his Chinese counterpart.
Beijing's strategy appeared to be to flatter Mr. Trump into easing up on pressure over trade and North Korea and acknowledging China's territorial interests and ambitions for a leading role on the world stage.
For the White House, a strong personal relationship with the man who now wields supreme authority in China has the potential to make it easier to manage bilateral tensions while standing up for Washington's own economic and security interests in Asia.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters in Beijing that the chemistry between the two leaders allowed them to speak more plainly. On North Korea, he said Mr. Trump had told the Chinese president: "You're a strong man -- you can, I'm sure, solve this for me."
Mr. Trump also had a tougher message on North Korea. "All responsible nations must join together to stop arming and financing -- and even trading with -- the murderous North Korean regime," he said.
Mr. Xi had suggested he didn't expect immediate results from U.N. sanctions on North Korea but believed they were having an effect, Mr. Tillerson said.
"Clearly, we have our own views of the tactics and the timing and how far to go with pressure, and that's what we spent a lot of time exchanging views on," Mr. Tillerson said.
However, he acknowledged that on trade, "the things that have been achieved thus far are pretty small."
The two sides unveiled business deals they valued at more than $250 billion, but many were already in the making or not actual contracts.
The leaders now take their competing agendas to the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Da Nang, Vietnam, on Friday and Saturday.
In a speech to Asia-Pacific business leaders on Friday, Mr. Trump will describe a "vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region" that stretches from the U.S. to the Indian Ocean, U.S. officials said. The White House is promoting closer cooperation between regional democracies, including India, and other nations concerned by Beijing's recent military and economic assertiveness, diplomats said.
In Mr. Trump's speech, "implicitly, there will undoubtedly be critical messages about Chinese behavior and goals that are objectionable to the U.S.," Ms. Glaser of CSIS said.
Mr. Xi is expected to use his speech to the same forum to press the image of China as the new champion of global free trade, and to encourage other countries to participate in his Belt and Road plan for wide-ranging trade and transport links.
Mr. Xi's goal is "to foster a new type of international relations and build a community of shared future for mankind," Assistant Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodong said last week.
Both leaders are expected to continue pressing those ideas during a series of bilateral meetings with other leaders in Da Nang, and during official visits to Hanoi afterward.
A meeting in Da Nang between Mr. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin was still under consideration, Mr. Tillerson said.
Mr. Xi then heads to Laos to shore up relations with another Chinese neighbor, while Mr. Trump travels to the Philippines, a U.S. ally, for meetings with Southeast Asian leaders.
The U.S. has also represented an unusually big U.S. naval exercise as a demonstration of Washington's commitment to the region.
Three U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups will conduct drills in the Western Pacific Saturday through Tuesday, the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet said. It said this would be the first time in a decade that three U.S. carriers had exercised together.
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 09, 2017 18:33 ET (23:33 GMT)