U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday that he and visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping had made progress in their first meetings, telling reporters: "I believe lots of very potentially bad problems will be going away."
Trump's comments after two days of meetings with Xi at Trump's Spanish-style Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida were upbeat, in sharp contrast to the tough anti-China rhetoric of his 2016 election campaign, which threatened tariffs and other punitive trade measures.
"We have made tremendous progress in our relationship with China," Trump told reporters as the two delegations met. "We will be making additional progress. The relationship developed by President Xi and myself I think is outstanding.”
Xi, like Trump speaking in broad terms, also waxed positive.
“We have engaged in deeper understanding, and have built a trust - a preliminary working relationship and friendship,” he said. “I believe we will keep developing in a stable way to form friendly relations ... For the peace and stability of the world, we will also fulfill our historical responsibility.”
“Well, I agree with you 100 percent, Mr. President," Trump said to a small pool of reporters ahead of the final session of the two-day visit. Xi then flew back to China.
Few details or formal agreements were announced after what was billed as a get-acquainted meeting between the leaders of the world's two biggest economies, their first since trump took office on Jan. 20.
100-day trade plan
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told reporters that Trump and Xi have agreed to a new 100-day plan for trade talks aimed at reducing the huge American trade deficit with China, according to Reuters news agency.
"Given the range of issues and the magnitude, that may be ambitious, but it's a very big sea change in the pace of discussion," Ross was quoted by Reuters as saying after the summit. "I think that's a very important symbolization of the growing rapport between the two countries."
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters that Trump and Xi had agreed to set up a new mechanism to replace the annual Strategic & Economic Dialogue that had been conducted by their predecessors.
According to Reuters, Tillerson said Xi and Trump agreed to increase cooperation on curbing North Korea's nuclear program, which the Chinese leader said had reached a serious stage. No details were offered.
Xi invited Trump to visit China in 2017 and Trump accepted, officials said earlier.
The Chinese leader's visit to Florida drew a large group of protesters championing diverse Chinese human rights causes, including jailed lawyers, petitioners angry at state land grabs, the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, Tibet and the Uyghurs.
The local newspaper Palm Beach Post quoted the city's sheriff’s office as saying five people were detained on charges ranging from obstruction of a roadway to resisting arrest.
“There were people at the protests with not just banners and placards, everyone was also wearing specially printed T-shirts,” U.S.-based pro-democracy activist Jia Kuo told RFA on Friday. He was among Chinese protesters trying to highlight their grievances by intercepting Xi’s motorcade.
“There were democracy activists, petitioners with grievances, members of the [banned spiritual group] Falun Gong and Tibetans,” he said.
“They all wanted to intercept Xi Jinping, but security was incredibly tight, with soldiers standing guard, and anyone who looked like they were about to get in front of the motorcade was immediately brought under control,” he said.
Human rights questions
Joining the protesters along Xi's motorcade route were large numbers of flag-waving Xi supporters in red shirts, mobilized to drown out the protests.
International and Chinese human rights advocacy groups, as well as U.S. lawmakers, had urged Trump to press Xi on Chinese problems, including the jailing of scores of lawyers and widespread reports that some of these attorneys were tortured, religious freedom and internet censorship.
It was not immediately clear whether Trump or his cabinet members had raised human rights with the Chinese leadership.
Back in China, blogger Ye Xiaozheng, who was detained for supporting the 2014 pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, called on the Chinese government to release all journalists and anyone else detained for exercising their freedom of expression -- adding that "I don’t hold out much hope for this, though."
“The most important thing of all for the Communist Party is the stability of the regime; they don’t care about anything else much at all,” he told RFA's Cantonese Service.
But Liu Kaiming, who directs the Institute of Contemporary Observation in the southern city of Shenzhen, said he hopes freedom of expression will improve in the event of warmer ties between Beijing and Washington.
“If Sino-U.S. relations are getting better, and the U.S. brings up these issues, then that will help China,” Liu said. “Of course it won’t change overnight, but … the calls from the people for [freedom of expression] are getting louder and louder.”
Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Written in English by Paul Eckert.