The U.S.-China summit at Mar-a-Lago is official.
The White House and Chinese officials formally announced Thursday that President Donald Trump will host Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s tropical White House at Mar-a-Lago on April 6 and 7. The visit will include a dinner hosted by the president and first lady Melania Trump on April 6.
Xi will come to Palm Beach from a state visit to Finland that begins Tuesday. Xi and the Chinese delegation are expected to stay in Manalapan at the Eau Palm Beach Resort and Spa, about 7 miles south of Mar-a-Lago.
Holding the summit at Mar-a-Lago rather than in Washington offers a relaxed setting for the leaders to get to know each other — but perhaps more informal than China wanted, one expert said.
Former President Barack Obama used a similar approach in 2013, shortly after Xi became China’s president, by meeting with him for the first time at the Sunnylands retreat in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
“This is an opportunity for President Trump to develop a relationship in person with President Xi,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday. “He’s spoken to him on the phone a few times. But we have big problems, and — I mean, everything from the South China Sea, to trade, to North Korea. There are big issues of national and economic security that need to get addressed, and I think there’s going to be a lot on the table when it comes to that over the two days that they will talk.”
Nicholas Hope, a senior scholar specializing in China and East Asia at the Stanford Center for International Development, said meeting at Mar-a-Lago is a positive sign.
“I think the best thing that could happen in the summit would be if the two leaders develop some type of rapport,” Hope said. “In a more relaxed environment, President Xi can be made to feel more welcome…It would be terrific if we came away with a sense that these guys have met each other and can get along with each other.”
Trump hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago in February and played golf with him at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter. China expert Scott Kennedy of the Center for Strategic and International Studies speculated Abe’s visit may be a reason the U.S. is also hosting Xi at Mar-a-Lago.
“The Chinese would have preferred this to be at the White House,” said Kennedy, who said China wants the pomp and formal signs of respect associated with a Washington visit. “The U.S. probably doesn’t want to have, symbolically, a higher visit with the Chinese leader than with the Japanese counterpart.”
Spicer, asked about the selection of Mar-a-Lago during Thursday’s press briefing, said: “I’m not going to get into the back and forth. I would just suggest to you that both sides discussed various locations and topics and agendas and length, et cetera, and aspects to the trip. And this is what we’ve arrived at.”
While Mar-a-Lago will be the setting for both the Abe and Xi visits, don’t expect golf to be part of next week’s summit. Chinese communists since Mao have criticized golf as a sport for wealthy capitalists, and Xi has conducted a “war on golf” that has included the shutting down of more than 100 courses in China.
A Federal Aviation Administration notice released Thursday announced flight restrictions for the Palm Beach area for April 6-9, suggesting Trump will remain at Mar-a-Lago for two days after Xi departs.
Trump has spent five of the first 10 weekends of his presidency at Mar-a-Lago, but is not expected to return this weekend.
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