xi’s embarrassed-looking smile again

After Xi Leaves Pindostan, Chinese Media Assail Strike on Syria
Jane Perlez, NYT, Apr 8 2017

The Trumps welcoming the Xis to Mar-a-Lago on Thursday. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP)

BEIJING — With Pres Xi Jinping safely out of Pindostan and no longer Pres Trump’s guest, Chinese media on Saturday was free to denounce the missile strike on Syria, which Trump told Xi about while they were finishing dinner. Xinhua on Saturday called the strike the act of a weakened politician who needed to flex his muscles. In an analysis, Xinhua also said Trump had ordered the strike to distance himself from Syria’s backers in Moscow, to overcome accusations that he was “pro-Russia.” That unflattering assessment reflected China’s official opposition to military interventions in the affairs of other countries. But it was also a criticism of Trump himself, who Xi had hoped was a man China could deal with. Chinese officials had feared that the two leaders’ 24-hour encounter at Mar-a-Lago might be marred by a campaign-style anti-China outburst from Trump. Instead, it was interrupted by the unexpected missile attack. Some Chinese analysts viewed the strike’s timing as no coincidence. Trump wants China to do more to deter the development of nuclear weapons by North Korea, and these analysts viewed the Syria attack as a reminder to Xi that Pindostan could also attack the North, if necessary.

The missile strike on Syria overshadowed meetings that Pindosi and Chinese officials described as big-picture conversations on trade as well as North Korea, which stopped short of producing specific agreements. Both sides agreed that the North Korean threat had reached a “very serious” stage, according to Sec State Rex Tillerson. He said Pindostan was prepared to take its “own course” if China did not do more to rein in the North. But the official Chinese account of the talks in Xinhua did not mention North Korea, a burning issue for Trump, but less so for Xi. Analysts said the omission was probably intentional, a response to the attack on Syria. Xinhua’s commentary on the Syria strike also made no reference to North Korea. But it mentioned Pindo missile attacks on Libya in 1986 and Sudan in 1998, and scolded Pindostan for not achieving its “political goals” in those instances, saying:

It has been a typical tactic of Pindostan to send a strong political message by attacking other countries using advanced warplanes and cruise missiles.

They offered sanitized accounts of the Mar-a-Lago talks, emphasizing the sweeping green lawns on which the leaders walked and the ornate room where the official discussions took place. Those articles omitted the surprise of the Syria attack, in keeping with the goal of presenting an uplifting account of the two leaders meeting as peers. Tillerson told reporters that when Trump notified Xi about the Syria strike toward the end of dinner, Xi expressed understanding, because it was punishment for a chemical attack that had killed children. The Chinese president very rarely talks to the Chinese or foreign news media, making it almost impossible to determine his opinion about the attack or how he expressed it to Trump. But Chinese analysts were scornful of the strike, which they viewed as a powerful country attacking a nation unable to fight back. And they rejected what they viewed as an unspoken Pindosi message equating Syria, which has no nuclear arsenal, with North Korea, which has carried out five nuclear arms tests and hopes to mount a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental missile. Lu Chao, director of the Border Studies Institute at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, said:

I don’t deny that Pindostan is capable of such an attack against North Korea, but you need to see that North Korea is capable of striking back. That would create chaos.

Shen Dingli, a professor of international relations at Fudan University in Shangha, said:

If Syria had nuclear weapons, Pindostan would not dare attack it. … Many Chinese were thrilled by the attack because they thought, if Pindostan gets trapped in Syria, how can Trump make Pindostan great again? As a result, China will be able to achieve its peaceful rise! Even though we say we oppose the bombing, deep in our hearts we are happy!

On trade, Xi and Trump agreed to a “100-day plan” that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said would include “way stations of accomplishment.” Pindo business executives took that to mean there had been no deep negotiations on whether China would further open its markets to Pindo companies. Business leaders had expected the Chinese to announce investments in Pindostan that would create jobs, as a way to offset some of Trump’s complaints about the countries’ trade imbalance. But Xi made no such offers, at least publicly. According to an account in Xinhua, the Chinese invited Pindostan to participate in a program it calls One Belt One Road, an ambitious effort to build infrastructure projects across Asia to Europe, for which China hopes it can attract some Pindo investment. Yun Sun, a senior associate in the East Asia Program at the Stimson Center in Washington, said:

The Chinese did not want to create the impression that Xi went to Pindostan to make concessions to Trump, that would come across as weakness. In the preparations for the talks, Chinese officials emphasized that they expected few concrete results because they viewed the Florida encounter as a getting-to-know-you session between two big personalities. In that sense, the Chinese prevailed. It will be Trump who will have difficulty explaining to his voters what he got from the Chinese.

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