Secretary of State Rex Tillerson touted the first summit between the leaders of the world’s two largest economies as a success and said Trump and Xi enjoyed “very frank, very candid” discussions that were “very positive.” The officials signaled that the trading relationship between the two countries and North Korea’s nuclear program were at the top of the agenda during the meetings, which took place here over 24 hours at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.
The meetings, which were overshadowed by Trump’s launch of an airstrike against a Syrian government target during the summit, did not yield any concrete accomplishments beyond pledges of increased cooperation and new frameworks for dialogue.
Tillerson, who briefed reporters alongside Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross at the conclusion of the summit, also said Trump said China needs to make changes to its economy in order to “level the playing field for American workers, stressing repeatedly the need for reciprocal market access.”
“President Trump noted the challenges caused by Chinese government intervention in its economy and raised serious concerns,” Tillerson said.
Mnuchin said the discussions focused on creating a “more balanced economic relationship, specifically on trade.”
All three Cabinet secretaries, though, used diplomatic language to describe the trading imbalance between the two countries, avoiding the hard-nosed rhetoric Trump has used for years in railing against the multibillion dollar US trade deficit with China. Trump has accused China of “raping” the US and argued that it has engaged in trade abuses to gain an advantage over the US.
The two leaders also agreed on the “urgency of the threat of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program” and agreed to work together to resolve the issue “peacefully,” Tillerson said.
“The two sides noted the urgency of the threat of North Korea’s weapons program, reaffirmed their commitment to a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and committed to fully implement UN Security Council resolutions,” Tillerson said. “They agreed to increase cooperation and work with the international community to convince the [North Korea] to peacefully resolve the issue and abandon its illicit weapons programs.”
Discussions between Trump and Xi over North Korea came days after Trump warned that the US was prepared to act unilaterally to stop North Korea’s nuclear program from advancing further should China be unwilling to use its leverage over Pyongyang.
The discussions also came as Trump launched a strike against a Syrian government air base as retaliation for its recent chemical weapons attack against a rebel stronghold, which killed civilians, including children. Some experts interpreted the strike as a warning to North Korea that the US is prepared to act militarily to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction.
Trump informed Xi of the strike as they finished eating dinner together on Friday, just as the US-launched cruise missiles struck their targets.
Tillerson said Xi told Trump that he “understood that such a response was necessary when people are killing children” and expressed “an appreciation” to Trump for informing him of the number of missiles that were launched and explaining the rationale behind the strike.