On Thursday, April 6, at President Trump's lavish Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida — dubbed the "Winter White House" by its owner — will play host to a state visit by the inscrutable Chinese President Xi Jinping.the most critical meeting with a foreign leader since President Trump took office. At stake is how Trump's administration will respond to one of it's key foreign policy quandaries — North Korean illegal missile activity.
Less than 48 hours before both world leaders will meet in person for the first time, North Korea launched a medium range missile on Tuesday (April 4) evening — the latest in a series of controversial weapons tests in the last couple of months, which have destabilized the Asia-Pacific region.
Despite the flagrant provocation from Pyongyang, Trump's Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was not forthcoming on either censure, or policy proposals.
In a brief, cryptic statement, Tillerson said:
However, that was in marked contrast to earlier far more blunt, even inflammatory rhetoric, from President Trump, a mere four days ago.
In an interview with British newspaper the Financial Times, Trump warned that the US will take unilateral military action to eliminate the nuclear threat from North Korea: even without Chinese help.
Such a scenario would be a shocking break from precedent.
And President Trump's dire words will surely be in the forefront of the mind of President Xi ahead of their Florida meeting.
However, North Korea has long been within the sphere of influence of Beijing — a geopolitical fact so widely accepted that no Western leader has publicly threatened unilateral action against them before.
Publicly, China has urged the United States to take a "cool-headed" approach to escalating tensions with North Korea, instead calling for a diplomatic solution to North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
However, behind the scenes, it's not yet clear whether Trump's bold threats will have thrown the Chinese off their guard, or whether a price will be exacted on Trump's administration.
After all, for President Trump, Chinese influence intersects with not just foreign policy but with major domestic promises as well.
However, Trump's advisers have previously briefed the media that they believe that Chinese foreign direct investment in major infrastructure projects would be an ideal way for the US and China to work together.
So far, there has been no official word from China on any infrastructure deals in the US.
Also, on the domestic front, is the US-China trade deficit, which Trump has long railed against as being unfair.
Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) 4 December 2016
With Trump's incendiary comments on China, the President may find his Chinese counterpart more uncompromising to work with than he had hoped, to the detriment of both his foreign and domestic policy objectives.