Having trimmed China’s ideological sails to the winds of change, Xi Jinping has rather calculatedly deviated from Mao Zedong’s thesis that “a revolution is not a dinner party”. As much was clear from the lavish feast and grandstanding in the Forbidden City in honour of Donald Trump. On the surface, the bonding signifies a new phase in US-China relations. Most importantly, the palace in central Beijing has hosted a banquet for a foreign leader in almost 70 years, indeed since the Communist party assumed power in 1949.
No less crucially, the occasion was packaged as the US President’s “state visit-plus”, reinforced with a children’s “greeting party” and the eloquent chant, “Welcome to China! I love you!” The reception has been exceptional by any reckoning; it has enthused Mr Trump to use no fewer than six adjectives ~ “magnificent, incredible, beautiful, impressive, terrific and unforgettable”. The optics at the Great Hall of the People and the Forbidden City have overshadowed the trade deals worth $9 billion, signed by the two leaders.
The US President, known to be abrasive and impetuous, has underlined his “great chemistry” with Mr Xi ~ a “very special man, for whom he has an incredibly warm feeling”. In terms of diplomatic courtesies at the level of helmsmen, it will not be easy to cite another parallel in international relations. For all that, however, it is hard not to wonder whether bonhomie will readily lead to a shift in dynamics. It would be pertinent to recall that on the first day in office as the US President, Mr Trump had accused China of raping the US economy and lampooning Beijing as a “currency manipulator”.
The time-frame is as remarkable as the shift in stance ~ from January to November 2017. Overall, there is little doubt that the two leaders were desperately anxious to convey a resounding message to North Korea. Markedly, President Trump has been scarcely moved by human rights violations in China, such as the house-arrest of activists and dissidents on the eve of his visit. The nub of the matter must be that Beijing is somewhat relieved, if not secretly happy, over America’s retreat from global leadership. If President Trump has his way, the US will be the only country outside the Paris agreement on climate-change.
At another remove, China under President Xi is posited in the vanguard of action in matters environmental. The comity of nations will nonetheless be anxious to know whether the new-found bonhomie will be enduring, despite President Trump’s tweet that he is looking forward to an “even stronger relationship”.
The world cannot readily concur with President Xi’s contention that the interests of the two nations are “closely converging”. Trade relations remain a major area irritant. While Mr Trump has been fairly predictable in his inconsistency, Mr Xi has pursued his agenda of “great power diplomacy with Chinese charateristics”. And for now, this has translated into a historic dinner.