Trump, Xi showdown fails to materialize at Mar-a-Lago

PALM BEACH, Fla. — What was billed as a showdown between the leaders of the United States and China over trade and North Korea ended with little sign of confrontation Friday — or of concrete progress in resolving their differences.

President Donald Trump had predicted a ‘‘very difficult’’ meeting with President Xi Jinping of China. After their first face-to-face at the Mar-a-Lago resort, he trumpeted they had developed an ‘‘outstanding’’ relationship.


US officials said the sides agreed to increase cooperation on trying to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, and China acknowledged the need for more balanced trade with the United States.

But the two days of meetings appeared heavier on optics than substance. The most powerful message for the Chinese leader may have been Trump’s decision to launch US missile strikes at Syria.

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Those strikes added weight to Trump’s threat last week to act unilaterally against North Korea’s weapons program — although a much heavier risk would be required to take military action against the nuclear-armed North, which has its artillery and missiles trained on a key US ally, South Korea.

The US administration’s first recourse is very likely to be economic — pushing China to crack down on Chinese banks and companies said to provide North Korea access to the international financial system.

In a possible harbinger of the kind of punishments Washington could inflict, a leading Chinese telecom company, ZTE, was fined nearly $900 million in March for shipping sensitive US-made technology to Iran in violation of US sanctions.


‘‘They recognize that shows our clear determination to crack down on this sort of activity,’’ Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told reporters.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States and China ‘‘agreed to increase cooperation and work with the international community to convince the DPRK to peacefully resolve the issue and abandon its illicit weapons programs.’’ DPRK stands for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Tillerson said Trump and Xi noted the urgency of the threat of North Korea’s weapons program and that they reaffirmed their commitment to a denuclearization of the divided Korean Peninsula.

On trade issues, Trump called for China to ‘‘level the playing field’’ for American workers, stressing the need for reciprocal market access. He also noted the importance of protecting human rights, and asked China to adhere to international norms in the seas of East Asia, Tillerson said.

As a candidate and president, Trump has taken an aggressive posture toward China, labeling Beijing a ‘‘tremendous problem’’ and arguing that lopsided trade deals with China shortchange American businesses and workers. Some $347 billion of the $502 billion trade deficit recorded by the United States last year was with China.

Trump said in a brief appearance before reporters Friday that he and Xi made ‘‘tremendous progress’’ in their talks and that he believes ‘‘lots of very potentially bad problems will be going away.’’ He did not elaborate.

For Xi, who is entering a twice-a-decade Communist Party congress in the fall, the meeting with Trump was more about stabilizing the critical US-China relationship and burnishing his foreign policy credentials than achieving a breakthrough.

Speaking alongside Trump, Xi said the two delegations discussed important topics and established a good friendship and working relationship.

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