BEIJING — President-elect Donald Trump spoke by telephone to Chinese President Xi Jinping — leader of a country he has accused of stealing U.S. jobs, pilfering trade secrets and unfairly subsidizing its industries — and they apparently got along just fine.
The new president-elect of the United States has vowed tough action to make Beijing behave — potentially including sharply higher tariffs. But there was no sense of rancour in the opening conversation between the two men, at least according their respective media teams.
“During the call, the leaders established a clear sense of mutual respect for one another, and president-elect Trump stated that he believes the two leaders will have one of the strongest relationships for both countries moving forward,” Trump’s transition team said in a statement.
The conversation took place on Sunday night on the east coast of the United States, on Monday in Beijing, roughly five days after Trump won the presidential election.
“Facts have shown that co-operation is the only correct choice for the two countries in dealing with their relations,” state news agency Xinhua cited Xi as saying.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the two sides have agreed to maintain close contact, build good relations and work toward a meeting between Xi and Trump “as soon as possible.”
“What I want to point out is that China always maintains close communication with the U.S. side, including Mr. Trump’s team, and we will carry on doing that,” Geng said at a news conference.
Xi also sent Trump a congratulatory message last Wednesday, stressing the importance of a “healthy and stable relationship” between the two countries, and arguing they “bear the special responsibility of maintaining world peace and stability and boosting global development and prosperity, and share extensive interests,” Xinhua reported.
Early in his first term, President Barack Obama said that the U.S.-China relationship would shape the 21st century, but there is considerable uncertainty about how ties will develop under a Trump presidency.
Although there are concerns about a trade war, Chinese state media and many experts here believe Trump will not do much to challenge China’s geopolitical rise. However a recent article by two of Trump’s advisers indicate he may actually invest significantly more in the U.S. Navy and in guaranteeing Asian security than Obama has.
Others worry that Trump will turn his back on one of the brightest spots in the relationship between the two countries: co-operation to tackle climate change.
With all the uncertainty, experts argue it is important that Xi and Trump strike up a relationship early in the new U.S. president’s term.
There was some confusion at the end of last week when some media outlets mistakenly reported Xi’s initial telegram as a phone call, and then could not understand why Trump had not mentioned any call from the Chinese leader.
But it seems that communications between the two leaders followed a similar pattern to when Obama first won election in 2008. Then Chinese President Hu Jintao also sent an initial telegram and followed it up with a phone call a few days later.