Forget Jared Kushner, the Chinese press is crediting their own diplomat with the Xi-Trump summit

Center stage?
Center stage?
Image: Reuters/Carlos Barria
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US president Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner carefully orchestrated the meeting between Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, according to several reports over the weekend in American news outlets.

Kushner is providing ”a key channel for high-level interactions between the White House and Chinese leadership,” the Washington Post reports (paywall), and is considered to be ”the man to know” (paywall) by Chinese leaders, The New York Times says. This flurry of positive press represents the latest burnishing of Kushner’s public image as he takes on an ever-widening portfolio of duties in the White House, any one of which would be challenging for an experienced diplomat.

But that’s not how Chinese media are viewing the upcoming summit. In a marked contrast, recent Chinese and Hong Kong news reports present Kushner as a mere bystander, someone who shook a few perfunctory hands as the meeting was planned. Instead, it is Yang Jiechi, the former Chinese ambassador to the US, who is being portrayed as the important meeting’s chief organizer.

Yang Jiechi is “The man behind the Xi-Trump summit,” according to the South China Morning Post, an English-language daily based in Hong Kong that has increasingly reflected Beijing’s point of view. Yang “pulled out all the stops to make the Florida meeting happen,” the Post reports, adding that he was the first senior official to meet Trump advisors, and also convinced the Trump team, through conversations with former National Security advisor Micheal Flynn, to agree to maintain the US’s “One China” policy. (“One China” considers Taiwan to be part of mainland China—a key foundation to any meeting from the Chinese perspective.) The Post continues:

Trump’s recommitment to the one-China policy during his telephone call with Xi on February 10 apparently inspired Yang and other diplomats to float the idea of the summit, with Yang’s brief meeting with Trump at the White House on February 27 laying the groundwork.

While not given any credit in the South China Morning Post, the president’s son-in-law is mentioned in passing in an article about Trump’s meeting with Yang in February in the China Daily, a Chinese-government backed English-language newspaper. He is not named at all in a separate China Daily article describing the planning of this week’s meeting. Instead, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s trip to China was cited as “paving the way” for a meeting between the two leaders.

Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi meets with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in March.
Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi meets with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in March.
Image: Reuters/Lintao Zhang

Who planned the meeting between Xi and Trump is obviously much less important than what happens during it. But the idea that Kushner is playing a key role in shoring up relations between the world’s two most powerful nations seems to be more an American narrative than a universal truth. While relatively small, this discrepancy is a reminder that the Chinese-US relationshipG is a deeply complicated one. And with messy issues like globe trade and containment of North Korea on the table, it still remains unclear which diplomatic players hold the real negotiating power.