STEP RIGHT UP

As Trump tweets about SNL and Broadway shows, China’s Xi Jinping embraces a new, powerful role

Obsession
China's Transition
Obsession
China's Transition

The election of Donald J. Trump as the next US president is widely expected to propel China, and Chinese president Xi Jinping, into a new role. Trump’s talk of increasing trade barriers, disdain for global organizations and agreements, and a focus on a domestic agenda could create a more isolationist US, leaving China to fill the gap.

Already, Xi appears to be embracing the change. Since the US presidential election, Xi has held a flurry of meetings with global leaders, including some historically ignored by China’s top official in the US’s own backyard. China has also swiftly become the new, and surprising, voice on climate change. And with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, designed to counter China’s influence on Asia trade, all but abandoned, Beijing is already trumpeting the end of the US pivot to Asia.

China has even taken in Myanmarese fleeing violence in the north of the country, and offered humanitarian aid.

Here’s a quick rundown of Xi’s schedule over the past five days:

Nov. 16: Stopped by Sardinia to meet with Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, before heading over to Latin America.

Nov. 17: Met with Ecuador president Rafael Correa in Quito (link in Chinese). It was the first visit by a Chinese head of state to Ecuador in 36 years, according to state newswire Xinhua. On the following day, the two leaders celebrated the completion of China-aided disaster-relief projects begun after the nation’s April earthquake. He is set to visit Chile this week, the first such visit in 12 years.

Chinese premier Li Keqiang has done these visits in the past. In 2015 he visited Latin America for a slew of deals including a $50 billion investment in Brazil’s infrastructure. This week is Xi’s “golden opportunity” to venture into Trump’s backyard, the Economist noted.

Nov. 19: Met with Barack Obama, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Vietnam’s Tran Dai Quang, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, and Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia—a line-up celebrated by the state-owned People’s Daily on the front page:

Xi Jinping met with heads of state ahead of the Apec meeting in Lima, Peru, via People's Daily
A busy day for Xi. (People's Daily)

During his talk with Obama, Xi re-emphasized that “cooperation is the only correct choice of the two sides,” the same thing he told Trump during a congratulatory phone call.

Nov. 20: Delivered a keynote speech at the opening of the APEC forum, emphasizing his “Belt and Road Initiative,” a key policy connecting trading partners along the ancient Silk Road. He also discussed creating the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), a long-term goal of the APEC members initiated in 2006. Beijing is backing a TPP alternative known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which notably excludes the US.

Met with Japanese minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the APEC meeting, at Tokyo’s “request,” according to a spokesperson (link in Chinese).

Invited Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying to his hotel for a 45-minute talk, during which he “fully endorsed” the city government’s handling of the recent oath-taking crisis. Xi said “very forcefully” that there’s no room for Hong Kong’s independence, Leung told Hong Kong media.

Trump, in contrast, doesn’t take office until the end of January, and traditionally, the weeks after a president is elected are tied up in announcing top advisors and the rest of the team that will work in the White House. Trump also met with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe (the inclusion of his daughter, a manager of his business interests, raised concerns about conflicts of interest). Some of the US president-elect’s time has been spent in tweeting complaints, including about the “one-sided, biased” show Saturday Night Live and the cast of the Broadway show Hamilton, and explaining his decision to pay $25 million to Trump University students to settle a fraud suit.

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