Energetic China welcome for Trump; trade, NKorea top topics

BEIJING: Welcomed to China with an outsized dose of pomp and pageantry, President Donald Trump pronounced himself wowed by Beijing's lavish greeting Wednesday at the start of a two-day visit in which he aims to employ flattery, scolding and cajolery to press the rising Asian power on trade and North Korea.

Trump, saddled with consistently low approval ratings at home, is dueling with a newly emboldened Chinese President Xi Jinping, who recently consolidated power. The American president's every utterance will be studied by allies anxious to see if his inward-looking "America First" mantra could cede power in the region to China.

A visit sure to include tough negotiations on multiple policy fronts began with a full-on display of diplomatic niceties: The president and first lady Melania Trump were greeted at the airport by dozens of children who waved US and Chinese flags and jumped up and down.

The couple sipped tea with Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, and received a private tour of the historic Forbidden City, Beijing's ancient imperial palace. Young opera students performed for them before dinner.

Trump said afterward that he was "having a great time" in China and threw open his arms and appeared to exclaim, "Wow!"

On Twitter later, Trump wrote: "On behalf of @FLOTUS Melania and I, THANK YOU for an unforgettable afternoon and evening at the Forbidden City in Beijing, President Xi and Madame Peng Liyuan."

Before arriving in Beijing on Wednesday, Trump used an address to the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, to deliver a stern message to China, North Korea's biggest trade partner. Trump urged "responsible nations" to unite and stop supporting North Korea.

"You cannot support, you cannot supply, you cannot accept," he said, calling on "every nation, including China and Russia," to fully implement recent UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea. Trump underscored his stern words by tweeting Wednesday that the North should not underestimate US resolve, echoing his speech from a day earlier in stating "DO NOT TRY US."

Trump is expected to demand that China curtail its dealings with Pyongyang and expel North Korean workers. Trump has praised China for taking some steps against Pyongyang but urged them to do more, as administration officials believe the border between China and North Korea remains a trade corridor.

The White House is banking on Trump's personal rapport with Xi to drive the negotiations. Trump has frequently showered praise on Xi, who recently became the nation's most powerful leader in decades, including with a trip to Trump's Florida estate for a summit.

"He's a powerful man. I happen to think he's a very good person. Now, with that being said, he represents China, I represent the USA, so, you know, there's going to always be conflict," Trump recently told the Fox Business Network. "People say we have the best relationship of any president-president because he's called president also. Now, some people might call him the king of China. But he's called president."

White House officials point to the Trump-Xi summit in Florida this spring, an event partly defined by Trump telling his Chinese counterpart about the missile strike he ordered on Syria while the two men dined on chocolate cake. But experts in the region suggest that Xi may have the advantage over Trump.

"Trump keeps portraying his relationship with Xi as great pals, but that's wildly naive," said Mike Chinoy, an expert on East Asia policy at the US-China Institute at the University of Southern California. "The Chinese have figured out how to play Trump: Flatter him. And there's nothing the Chinese do better than wow foreign diplomats."

Trump talked tough during his campaign about fixing America's trade relationship with China and labeling it a "currency manipulator." But he has signaled that he would take it easy on Beijing if it will help with the nuclear threat from North Korea.

"Trump has mortgaged the whole US-China relationship to get the Chinese on board with the North Korea plan," Chinoy said. "He is now coming at it from a position of weakness."

White House officials have said that if Trump were to chide Xi about human rights or democratic reforms, he would likely do it privately. Andrew Nathan, a political science professor and China expert at Columbia University, said Trump's "infatuation" with Xi was reminiscent of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's fascination with Zhou Enlai, the first premier of the People's Republic of China.

"For Trump, Xi is wish fulfillment: 'I wish I could be as powerful as that guy!'" Nathan said.

Trump issued a series of morning tweets that removed any mystery about whether he would be able to use Twitter in China, which has banned the social media platform.

The US has workarounds, but the White House had declined to comment on whether Trump would go there.