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Trump shakes hands with China's President Xi Jinping during a press conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photo: Nicolas Asfouri / AFP/Getty Images.

President Trump has finished his "state visit plus" to China. General Secretary Xi Jinping, now the most powerful Chinese leader in decades, put on a masterful show of pomp and flattery, including the first dinner in the Forbidden City for a foreign leader since 1949. President Trump returned the flattery, as you would expect a guest to do.

Our thought: Pomp and flattery aside, it is not so clear that Xi played Trump. The administration has a good team of China people. Trump may return to the U.S. and, barring a real breakthrough over the North Korea issue, begin rolling out a tougher policy towards China, especially on trade. Trump has been consistent for decades in his criticism of China and its trade practices, so the last 10 months of relative calm in the U.S.-China relationship seem more an anomaly than the status quo.

The leaders made a big show of announcing $250 billion in deals, but some, including Boeing's $37 billion plane order, were repackaged from deals already announced, while others are MOUs that may never come to fruition. The Chinese are always happy to announce big deals during presidential visits as they are flashy, often non-binding, and do nothing to address the structural barriers.

Sources told me before the trip that the administration's approach to the structural issues was going to be "you know what you need to do" rather than a set of specific asks. Trump delivered that message in his private meetings, and in his public comments on the trade deficit he credited the Chinese and blamed his predecessors:

  • "Both the United States and China will have a more prosperous future if we can achieve a level economic playing field. Right now, unfortunately, it is a very one-sided and unfair one. But — but I don't blame China. (Applause.) After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens? I give China great credit"
  • "But, in actuality, I do blame past administrations for allowing this out-of-control trade deficit to take place and to grow. We have to fix this because it just doesn't work for our great American companies, and it doesn't work for our great American workers. It is just not sustainable. I look forward to working toward that goal and to pursuing fair and lasting engagement."

There was no announced progress on North Korea, just a reiteration that both countries want "a complete, verifiable, and permanent denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula".

Bottom line: Xi is also not stupid and while he prefers a constructive relationship with the U.S., the Chinese are prepared for and in fact are expecting more friction with the U.S.

Sign up for the Axios China newsletter here.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - World

Up to 17 U.S. missionaries kidnapped in Haiti

Haitian soldiers guard the public prosecutor's office in Port-au-Prince this month. Photo: Richard Pierrin/AFP via Getty Images

Children were among up to 17 American Christian missionaries and their relatives kidnapped by a gang in Haiti on Saturday, the New York Times first reported.

The latest: Haitian police inspector Frantz Champagne identified the 400 Mawozo gang as the group responsible, in a statement to AP.

Hollywood union reaches deal with studios to avert strike

Photo: AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

A Hollywood workers' union reached a tentative deal with studios, networks and streamers that will guarantee better working conditions, meal breaks and increased wages for low-paid workers, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) announced Saturday night.

Why it matters: The deal, which still needs to be ratified by IATSE members, will avert a nationwide strike by film and television workers that was set to start Monday. It would have been the first strike in the union's 128-year history.

Bill Clinton released from hospital following treatment for non-COVID infection

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former President Bill Clinton was discharged from the University of California, Irvine Medical Center on Sunday, nearly a week after he was admitted for a non-COVID-related infection, according to his spokesperson Angel Ureña.

What they're saying: "His fever and white blood cell count are normalized and he will return home to New York to finish his course of antibiotics," wrote Dr. Alpesh Amin, who has been overseeing the team of doctors treating Clinton. "On behalf of everyone at UC Irvine Medical Center, we were honored to have treated him and will continue to monitor his progress."

Worth noting: Clinton had a urinary tract infection that spread to his bloodstream, per CNN.

  • The California-based medical team had been administering IV antibiotics and fluids, and was in constant communication with Clinton's New York team, including his cardiologist, according to the former president's physicians.
  • President Biden spoke by phone with Clinton on Friday to see how he was doing, and the catch-up included a discussion of recent politics.