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Politics aside, Trump and Xi could bond as ‘strong men’

President Donald Trump speaks on the phone with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in the Oval Office of the White House, January 28, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images
President Donald Trump speaks on the phone with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in the Oval Office of the White House, January 28, 2017 in Washington, DC.

US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping should be able to forge a personal connection that will benefit broader ties between their two nations if they do meet next month, observers say.

Although tensions between the two sides were likely to continue, both leaders project strong personalities, which could provide the basis for a lasting bond, they said.

According to US media reports, Trump will host Xi at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida on April 6 and 7.

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White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said on Monday the administration was preparing for a meeting between the two leaders but was not ready to announce a date. "Planning is ongoing for a visit between President Trump and President Xi at a date to be ­determined," Spicer said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the two sides had been in close communication over the possibility of a summit and information would be released in a timely manner.

Although the two leaders both project forceful personalities, they are otherwise very different, coming from opposing backgrounds. Xi portrays himself as frugal, ­humble and literary, with a ­penchant for quoting Chinese classics, while Trump celebrates instinct, bravado over consensus and wealth as a reflection of self-worth.

Zhang Baohui, director of the Centre for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, said Xi's temperament was better suited – compared to his predecessor Hu Jintao – to handle Trump's impulsive nature, Zhang said.

Trump has also openly praised the "very smart" Russian President Vladimir Putin, who Xi counts as a close friend, and said the Chinese government's crackdown on the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstration showed "the power of strength".

"Trump said he appreciates a strong man … and Xi is a strong man. Trump appreciates Xi's style as a hardliner in domestic issues," said Liu Weidong, a US foreign affairs observer from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, adding these shared values could form the root of their friendship.

Despite Trump's penchant for disregarding diplomatic protocol – he abruptly ended a phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull when disagreement arose – China experts believed the atmosphere at the upcoming talks would be much better. "Australia is a long term ally and follower of the US, while China is not," said Zhang Yuquan, an American studies expert at Sun Yat-sen University.

Holding the summit next month would be in Beijing's interests, he said. "Meeting in April would be good timing, as it's before the Trump administration's China's policies are fully shaped," Zhang said, adding the informal setting would allow the two leaders to freely discuss sensitive issues.

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