Trump's going to use this week's China summit in Mar-a-Lago to propose a new "framework" for relations, senior Trump Administration officials said today on a background call with reporters. Trump and Xi are spending roughly a day together at the Florida club, with Xi arriving Thursday afternoon and leaving after a working lunch on Friday. It'll be all business, one official said:
It's safe to say there's not going to be any golf
Key points from the phone briefing:
- A new framework: Trump's primary purpose will be to "put a framework in place" to help the two leaders work through their disagreements on everything from trade to North Korea.
- Elevating the dialogue: The officials didn't say what that new "framework" would look like, only that the dialogue between the U.S. and China would be "streamlined" and have "clear deadlines."
- North Korea: Its belligerence and race to fit nuclear weapons onto missiles that could hit America make it an urgent threat. "The clock has run out and all options are now on the table," an official on the call said. Expect Trump to pressure Xi to use China's economic power over North Korea as leverage to get the country to improve its behavior.
- Trade: Trump already told the Financial Times he probably wouldn't raise the subject of tariffs with the Chinese on this first visit. But an official on the call pointedly said he couldn't rule out that tariffs would come up in the leaders' conversations. The official added, however, that he didn't anticipate resolving any issues on trade during this first meeting between the leaders.
- Climate change: Obama used the shared threat of climate change to find a rare patch of common ground with the Chinese — culminating in the 2015 global agreement in Paris. Trump, however, has little interest in dealing with global warming, and when a reporter asked the officials about the subject they quickly pivoted to North Korea.
- South China Sea: The officials didn't want to get into much detail here, but they wouldn't be surprised if Trump raised the issue of China's provocative building of military outposts in the South China Sea. An official on the call said it was "no secret" that Trump was "disturbed by the activities that took place under the last administration and he and his cabinet members have been on the record saying [this has] got to stop."
Our read: Trump loved dealing one-on-one during his real estate career, and we wouldn't be surprised if he elevates more of the conversations with China to the leader-to-leader level.