The first summit between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping will be of “great significance” for global peace, the two countries’ top diplomats agreed ahead of the meeting.
News of the telephone call between the US and Chinese top envoys came soon after the publication of an interview with Trump, in which he warned that America was prepared to act unilaterally to deal with North Korea’s nuclear programme if Beijing proved unwilling to help.
Surging regional tensions over Pyongyang’s accelerating weapons programme are among a host of pressing issues that will be on the table when Xi visits Trump’s Mar-a-Largo resort in Florida this Thursday and Friday, as the two global powers look to smooth sometimes spiky relations.
As the talks loom, China’s chief diplomat Yang Jiechi and US secretary of state Rex Tillerson agreed that the meeting was a “top priority”, the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs said in a statement on its website.
Yang said the discussions would be of “great significance” for the development of bilateral relations and for global peace, stability and prosperity.
Tillerson echoed the sentiment, according to the statement, suggesting the summit was “extremely important” for the future of US-China ties.
The summit seemed a distant possibility just weeks ago after Trump infuriated Beijing with suggestions he might break from the US’s long-standing One China Policy, which nominally acknowledges the country’s claims over Taiwan without recognizing them.
In a conciliatory phone call in mid-February, the US president walked back his controversial comments on Taiwan, creating an opening for Washington and Beijing to discuss a meeting.
But late last week, the billionaire politician tweeted that he anticipated a “very difficult” meeting with Xi.
“We can no longer have enormous trade deficits… and job losses,” he wrote.
He also asked US officials to pinpoint “cheaters” responsible for America’s nearly $50 billion a month trade deficit, stating that countries or firms who broke the rules would face “very severe consequences”.
Though he named no specific country as a violator, Trump has repeatedly accused Beijing of “manipulating” its currency to favor exporters — a charge which the Asian giant has fiercely protested.
In an interview with the Financial Times published on Sunday, Trump said if China did not use its influence over the isolated Pyongyang regime to help the US “it won’t be good for anyone”.
North Korea has stepped up ballistic missile tests and has staged five nuclear tests so far, including two last year.
Beijing, increasingly frustrated with Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile activities, has announced a suspension of all coal imports from the North until the end of the year.