Chinese state media on Saturday cheered the meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping as one that showed the world that confrontation between the two powers was not inevitable.
The official China Daily newspaper said it was encouraging to see the two-day summit that ended on Friday “going as well as it could”, after earlier “confusing signals” from Washington about how it was approaching the U.S.-China relationship.
Trump had campaigned with strident anti-China rhetoric and had angered Beijing before taking office by talking to the president of Taiwan, the self-ruled island Beijing claims as its own.
But the two sides avoided any diplomatic gaffes at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida that would have tarnished the meeting in the eyes of the protocol-conscious Chinese.
China Daily said both parties appeared “equally enthusiastic about the constructive relationship they have promised to cultivate”.
“This may sound surreal to those preoccupied with an ‘inescapable’ conflict scenario between what they see as rising and incumbent powers,” the newspaper wrote in an editorial.
“But that Beijing and Washington have so far managed to do well in preventing conflicts shows confrontation is not inevitable.”
State-run Chinese tabloid Global Times said the meeting “served as an indicator that the China-U.S. relationship is still very much on course since the Trump administration took office in January”, and it was likely the two nations would develop a more “pragmatic relationship”.
“It seems that both countries have understood the importance of how essential a smooth transition needs to be, and not just for the two countries involved here, but really for the entire world over,” it said.
Their comments were echoed by a front-page commentary in the overseas edition of the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily which said the meeting established the tone for the development of U.S.-China relations.
There was, however, no mention in the commentaries of the U.S. missile strike on a Syrian government airbase, which overshadowed the summit.
Wang Dong, Associate Professor of International Studies at China’s elite Peking University, said the move may have had the added bonus in Trump’s eyes of sending North Korea a message over its nuclear program, but that China was unlikely to be fazed.
“There are great differences between the Syria situation and the Korean peninsula situation,” Wang said, noting North Korea’s conventional military capability to strike back at South Korea in the event of U.S. military action.
“Any use of force or preemptive strikes against North Korea will carry huge ramifications, which would probably lead to a drastically different outcome compared to Syria,” Wang said.
In the talks, Trump pressed Xi to do more to curb North Korea’s nuclear program and the two agreed to a 100-day plan for trade talks aimed at boosting U.S. exports and reducing the gaping U.S. trade deficit with Beijing.
U.S. industry had hoped Trump would deliver a strong message to Xi behind closed doors to end what they see as discriminatory trade policies, but not do anything rash to spark a trade war.
In an outcome likely to play well in China, state news agency Xinhua said that U.S. and Chinese officials initiated new dialogue mechanisms on economic issues, as well as security and diplomatic issues, in what appeared to be a reimagining of the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue held under President Barack Obama.
Some within U.S. industry had suggested those earlier talks yielded little substance, and urged the Trump administration to scrap them until Beijing displayed more initiative to address complaints about its industrial policies.
“We would like to see more results-oriented outcomes coming out of these new dialogues and fewer laundry lists,” said Beijing-based Jacob Parker, vice president of China operations at the U.S.-China Business Council, although he added that he saw the meeting as “generally positive” on commercial issues.