Will Trump go to Beijing before Xi goes to Mar-a-Lago?

Business & Technology

Top China news for March 20, 2017. Get this daily digest delivered to your inbox by signing up at supchina.com/subscribe

Rex Tillerson goes to China

U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson spent 24 hours in Beijing over the weekend. On Saturday, he held talks and a press conference with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi (see U.S. State Department transcript). On Sunday, he met President Xi Jinping. The optics were friendly and so was the talk — Tillerson mouthed some of the Chinese government’s favorite clichés at the press conference about “mutual respect” and “win-win cooperation,” and Xi praised his visitor for making “a lot of active efforts to achieve a smooth transition in our relationship under the new era.”

Some observers were not pleased: The Washington Post headlined its story about the visit “In China debut, Tillerson appears to hand Beijing a diplomatic victory.” It also quotes Bonnie Glaser, saying of Tillerson’s use of language favored by Beijing that “the U.S. is in effect saying that it accepts that China has no room to compromise” on various issues where Beijing and Washington do not see eye to eye. Yet the Post does comment that “perhaps the former ExxonMobil boss is simply not that worried about parsing diplomatic language and is more focused on results.” Meanwhile, the New York Times has a story (paywall) that focuses on Tillerson’s meeting with Xi, and the context of a new North Korean test of a missile engine “that analysts said could be used in an intercontinental missile.”

What can we conclude from Tillerson’s visit? Friendly words were exchanged in a dramatic climbdown from Trump’s China-bashing rhetoric. But nothing that has been made public suggests any substantial progress on the issues causing tensions between the two countries, including trade frictions, sovereignty questions in the South and East China Seas, and North Korea.

Will Trump follow?

Another outcome of Tillerson’s visit is that the groundwork has been laid for a meeting between the American and Chinese presidents, with Xinhua News Agency now acknowledging that it is in the works (a week after U.S. media broke the story). However, there has been no official Chinese confirmation that Xi will visit the U.S. or meet Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort, as American reports have claimed. In fact, a People’s Daily report (in Chinese) mentioned only that Xi said Trump was welcome to visit China.

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A handover of power from the U.S. to China

Journalist and commentator Fareed Zakaria suggests in a well-argued CNN segment that the planned Trump-Xi meeting set to take place at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in April may “be remembered as the beginning of a handover of power from the United States to China.” Zakaria says that “the Trump administration’s vision for disengagement from the world is a godsend for China.”

Tigers aren’t vegetarians

Last year, a woman who exited her car at a Beijing wildlife park was killed by a tiger. In January this year, a man was killed by a tiger at a zoo in Ningbo in eastern China after he jumped over a fence into its cage, seeking to avoid paying an entrance fee. Over the weekend, an entire family, including two children, was spotted leaving a vehicle inside a tiger enclosure at the Beijing Wild Animal Park — the Beijinger has photos and a summary of the news. The Beijing police department responded on its Weibo account (in Chinese): “A reminder: Tigers aren’t vegetarians!”

Anti-Korean sentiment in China: A review of recent episodes

Reuters reports that Seoul has formally “notified the WTO that China may be in violation of some trade agreements” with its retaliatory actions against the deployment of the American THAAD missile defense system in South Korea. In recent weeks, Chinese citizens have taken to the internet and occasionally the streets and shopping malls to express their displeasure — but this is not the first time that China’s tiny neighbor has been the object of hatred, both online and offline.

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor in Chief

Today on SupChina

We publish a timely piece by Jiayun Feng explaining the recent outbursts of anti-Korean sentiment in mainland China.

This issue of the SupChina newsletter was produced by Sky Canaves, Lucas Niewenhuis, Jia Guo, and Jiayun Feng. More China stories worth your time are curated below, with the most important ones at the top of each section.


  • A small table maker takes on Alibaba’s flood of fakes / NYT (paywall)
    Despite a vigorous public relations campaign, Taobao, the online marketplace owned by ecommerce giant Alibaba, is facing a growing chorus of criticism in the U.S. for its failure to stop the sale of fake products on its platform. Last year, the Office of the United States Trade Representative put Taobao back on its list of “notorious markets” for counterfeit goods, after removing it from the list in 2012. In the story linked above, the New York Times profiles Vintage Industrial, a 25-employee Arizona-based startup that designs and makes retro-style furniture, and is fighting a daily battle against copycat products on Taobao. One of its products is a table that sells for $5,295; the company found a replica product on a Taobao store priced at $240.
  • China’s trading partners alarmed by food import controls / ABC
    Officials of the United States, the EU, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, Chile, and other governments have sent letters to China’s General Administration for Quality Inspection, Supervision and Quarantine (AQSIQ) expressing concern about plans to introduce new inspections for imported foods, “including such low-risk items as wine and chocolate.” The new rules could drastically affect companies that cater to China’s rapidly growing appetite for foreign foods and beverages. The German ambassador to Beijing commented that the increased scrutiny of imported food “seems it is more about protecting Chinese producers than about food safety.”
    Meanwhile, the story of Chinese consumers creating a boom for the lobster-fishing industry in the U.S. state of Maine continues to get media coverage: The Washington Post covered it almost a year ago, and as Quartz and Bloomberg have reported over the last few days, the craze for crustaceans does not seem to be waning.


  • Beijing piling on pressure against Taiwan independence: MAC / China Post (Taiwan)
    Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC; 陆委会 lù wěihuì) released a report on Sunday that “paints a bleak outlook for the thawing of the cross-strait freeze,” and says that relations between the P.R.C. and Taiwan are in “a regressive state.” The report cites China’s increased censorship of “topics related to Taiwanese independence,” political preconditions on cross-strait interactions, and restrictions on travel by mainland Chinese to Taiwan. Meanwhile, the BBC reports that Taiwan has accused China of stepping up its espionage activities on the island, while the Taiwan Sentinel notes that Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense “confirmed for the first time that China has deployed and is targeting the island-nation with the advanced Dong Feng 16 (DF-16) ballistic missile.”
    The China Post also reports that activists in Taipei gathered on Sunday to protest the ruling “Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) ‘slow progress’ in enacting a law to make negotiations between the government and Beijing more transparent.” The demonstration marked the third anniversary of the Sunflower Movement, which was formed by activists uncomfortable with Taiwan’s growing reliance on trade with China.
  • Has Xi Jinping gotten his crown? / China Media Project
    David Bandurski parses the language that came out of the Two Sessions meetings that ended last week, and suggests that we may be witnessing “Xi’s crowning as a paramount leader to guide China through a new period of historical transition.”


  • Elderly Chinese toilet paper thieves face up to their crimes / SCMP
    This story combines several topics of importance in China, from the surveillance state to the poverty and penny-pinching habits of many senior citizens: Authorities have installed facial recognition technology in some public toilets in the capital’s Tiantan Park to stop the widespread theft of toilet paper. To get toilet paper, visitors must stand in front of the dispenser, which has a camera fitted with software that remembers recent faces. The machine will dispense a maximum of 60 cm (23 in.) of paper to the same person within a nine-minute period. According to the original Chinese report on the initiative, the technology will be rolled out in all toilets in Tiantan Park if city residents and tourists react positively to it. If not, other measures will be implemented. On Chinese social media, the machine was ridiculed by one internet user as “cynical installation art.” Another commenter wrote: “It is very likely that in the end, the machine will go missing along with the paper.”
  • Alienation 101 / 1843 Magazine
    The U.S. sees a massive influx of Chinese students landing on its soil every year: There were more than 300,000 of them at American universities in 2016. But hopes that time spent in the U.S. will bring the two countries closer together may not be realized. Brooke Larmer visited the University of Iowa, whose efforts to woo Chinese students have succeeded — 80 percent of its international undergraduate students are Chinese — and found that many of them do not socialize with non-Chinese classmates and “end up floating in a bubble disconnected from the very educational realms they had hoped to inhabit.”