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Before Talks With Trump, Xi Promotes His Image as a Leader With Friends

BEIJING — By the time China’s leader, Xi Jinping, sees President Trump on Saturday, he will already have met with the leaders of Russia, India, Japan and some African nations, appearances the Chinese choreographed to portray Mr. Xi as a man of the world with enough friends to offset the animosity of the United States.

That depiction of Mr. Xi as the leader of a great power at the Group of 20 meeting is important for his home audience in the face of slowing economic growth. The meeting with Mr. Trump is expected to produce little more than a fragile truce in the trade conflict, and probably the start of a new round of talks, so Mr. Xi needs to be shown as pursuing a bigger agenda, Chinese and Western analysts said.

The Chinese leader has signaled he would present Mr. Trump with a plan from the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, for reviving nuclear talks. He would likely work to keep the trade negotiations alive, they said, but may consider waiting out Mr. Trump in the hope of dealing with a more predictable American leader in 2021. Mr. Xi could offer the prospect of better access to the Chinese market that Washington wants, but not under the pressure of a new set of tariffs.

“The significance of this meeting is to prevent Sino-U.S. relations from experiencing a free fall, and to play a moderating role,” said Da Wei, a professor at the University of International Relations in Beijing.

From Mr. Xi’s viewpoint, the best outcome of the encounter with Mr. Trump would be to slow-walk negotiations for the next 18 months, said David Lampton, a fellow at Stanford University’s Asia-Pacific Research Center. “The point for Xi is: don’t be seen to lose, weaken Trump’s support with other countries and his domestic base.”

Whether Mr. Xi can be convincing in his role as a president with broad horizons and the creator of a coalition that balances against the United States is an open question. Aside from the leaders of the countries he will be meeting with in Osaka, Mr. Xi also needs to have the major nations of the European Union on board. Earlier, Chinese news reports indicated that Mr. Xi might not meet one-on-one with with the chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel. But that meeting did take place on Friday afternoon.

“China is trying to reach out to major E.U. countries, Russia, India and Japan to hedge against the prospect of a new Cold War with the U.S.,” said Zhang Baohui, a professor of international relations at Lingnan University in Hong Kong.

But the European Union is also wrangling with China over trade, while India and Japan both have security concerns over China’s expanding influence and military presence in the region.

Both China and the United States sought to gain the upper hand before the start of the G20 summit. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for example, visited India Thursday to pre-empt Mr. Xi’s meeting with the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, in Osaka.

“The Chinese efforts and counter efforts by the U.S. are evidence of the globalized strategic rivalry underway between the two countries,” Mr. Zhang said.

For Mr. Xi, the priority in talks with Mr. Trump is to make headway on a truce in the trade war that has helped drive a slowdown in Chinese economic growth. But the Chinese leader will use some of his time with Mr. Trump to discuss China’s troublesome neighbor and ally, North Korea, and reiterate China’s key role in helping Washington end a standoff over the North’s nuclear weapons program, a senior Asian diplomat said.

Mr. Xi has said he was seeking a “grand plan” for resolving the nuclear standoff between the North and the United States. He was almost certain to raise North Korea with Mr. Trump in a positive way — that Mr. Kim would entertain a new round of talks, the diplomat said, a strategy to show Mr. Trump that China could be helpful with his nuclear diplomacy with Mr. Kim, a signature foreign policy project for the American leader.

On the trade talks, Mr. Xi would be aiming to persuade Mr. Trump to put a hold on new tariffs that the president has said he was prepared to impose on another $ 300 billion worth of Chinese products. That is on top of the 25 percent tax already in place on $ 250 billion of Chinese imports.

Mr. Xi would reassure Mr. Trump that he was willing to continue holding talks on trade, “but not under the gun” of new tariffs, said Shen Dingli, a professor of international relations in Shanghai. It is critical that Mr. Trump not follow through with his threat of those new tariffs, Mr. Shen said.

“If the United States can take off the gun,” Mr. Shen said, referring to the new tariffs that could be imposed after July 2, “then both sides have good intentions.”

The Asian diplomat said that Chinese officials, ever conscious about Mr. Xi’s image, had requested that Mr. Xi’s visit to Osaka not be disrupted by protests against China. But Kyodo News, a Japanese agency, reported that the Japanese government granted a visa to Rebiya Kadeer, an exiled activist of the China’s Uighur Muslim minority, who was likely to lead a protest about China’s troubling internment of about one million Uighurs.

This comes as demonstrations in Hong Kong over concerns about Beijing’s influence in the semiautonomous Chinese territory have dealt Mr. Xi’s administration a major political setback. Even as ties between China and Japan showed signs of warming, Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister and the host of the summit, implicitly criticized China’s human rights record when he met with Mr. Xi on Thursday.

Mr. Abe raised concerns about Hong Kong, despite Beijing’s earlier warning that it opposed discussing the city’s protests at the G20, and the plight of the Uighurs, according to a press secretary for Japan’s foreign ministry.

As Mr. Xi traveled to Osaka Thursday, the nationalist newspaper, The Global Times, issued an unusually strong warning to Canada, saying it should not seek the help of the United States in trying to defuse tensions between Beijing and Ottawa.

The paper denounced Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei, the Chinese telecoms giant, last December at the request of the United States.

It said that if Canada wanted better treatment from China — the release from detention of Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Michael Spavor, a businessman, and an end to bans on Canadian meat exports — it must release Ms. Meng. The two Canadians were charged with espionage last month in cases widely seen as retaliation for Ms. Meng’s arrest.

But President Trump pledged to Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, during his visit to the White House last week that he would intervene with Mr. Xi on the issue of the Canadians.

If Mr. Trump follows through with his pledge, that could make his encounter with Mr. Xi more contentious than the Chinese side had hoped it would be. The Global Times made clear that strategy would not work, saying: “It is suggested that Canada drop the illusion that this is the way to exert pressure on China.”

Source: NYT > World News

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