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Trump, Xi Jinping Probably Won't Be Golfing While Talking Trade At Mar-A-Lago Meeting


We'll start the program today with a look ahead to President Trump's meeting this week with Chinese President Xi Jinping. President Trump is already warning it could be a contentious meeting. President Trump wants to reduce America's $310 billion trade deficit with China.

And at the same time, he's asking China to do more to rein in North Korea's nuclear program and suggesting that if China doesn't help, the U.S. will tackle the issue itself. We'll get the view from China in a moment from our Beijing correspondent, but first here's NPR's White House correspondent Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Trump tweeted he expects his meeting with President Xi to be, quote, "very difficult" adding the U.S. can no longer have what he calls massive trade deficits and job losses. The idea that China is taking advantage of the U.S. was a persistent theme for Trump during the presidential campaign. Here he is nearly a year ago at a campaign rally in Indiana.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We can't continue to allow China to rape our country, and that's what they're doing. It's the greatest theft in the history of the world.

HORSLEY: In his first few months in office, though, Trump has been slow to act on that tough campaign rhetoric. So far, he has not slapped tariffs on Chinese imports nor has he branded the country a currency manipulator as he threatened. And while President-elect Trump took a provocative phone call from the leader of Taiwan, which Beijing considers a breakaway province, Trump later reaffirmed the one-China policy in a telephone call with Xi Jinping.


TRUMP: It was a very, very warm conversation. I think we are on the process of getting along very well.

HORSLEY: Now the two presidents are preparing to meet face-to-face for the first time. Christopher Johnson who is a former China analyst at the CIA says it's a chance for Trump and Xi to take one another's measure.

CHRISTOPHER JOHNSON: Xi is a very confident fellow and probably thinks he's going to come in and get one over on President Trump. I suspect President Trump thinks he's going to get one over on President Xi, so it will be interesting to see how that dynamic plays out.

HORSLEY: The meeting was deliberately scheduled at Trump's Florida resort Mar-a-Lago, a more relaxed setting than the White House. But Johnson says it won't be quite so chummy as Trump's previous summit there with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abbott.

JOHNSON: The fact that President Xi doesn't play golf sort of limits their ability to do some of these extracurricular activities, so we'll have to see what they choose to do there.

HORSLEY: The two leaders are expected to talk not only about trade, but also North Korea which continues to develop both nuclear weapons and missiles that might one day deliver a warhead to the western United States. Bonnie Glaser of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says China has some leverage to discourage those activities, but it's reluctant to push North Korea too hard.

BONNIE GLASER: The Trump administration is emphasizing that this is now not simply a regional threat. It is a global threat, and it is indeed an increasingly urgent and imminent threat to the United States and to our allies.

HORSLEY: The U.S.-China relationship has already changed since Trump took office. He's begun to reverse former President Obama's climate initiatives which were a source of cooperation with China. Trump also pulled the plug on Obama's Asia Pacific trade deal which China viewed as a competitive threat. Johnson says what happens next is hard to predict.

JOHNSON: President Trump - I think it's fair to say - has shown something of a penchant for going off script every once in a while. And so that must be concerning to a group that typically likes to have everything very, very scripted.

HORSLEY: Any carefully crafted script for this week's meeting could be upended with a single presidential tweet. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.