×

China is buttering up Trump in the hope he'll 'back off' on his criticism of Beijing

  • China is billing Donald Trump's trip to the country as a "state visit-plus"
  • But that's just because the Chinese hope to steer Trump away from issues like trade, analysts say

President Donald Trump is landing in China later on Wednesday with trade and North Korea on his mind, but the Chinese have a plan to loosen him up on those topics: a charm offensive.

Beijing is billing Trump's time in the country as a "state visit-plus" with some added perks that other world leaders don't see. But it's not just kindness from President Xi Jinping — it's a calculated decision to play up to the U.S. leader's apparent weaknesses, experts told CNBC.

The Chinese "have figured out, as many other countries have realized, that the way to win over President Trump and get him to back off some of his more hostile campaign rhetoric is to turn up the charm," said Aaron Connelly, research fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy.

"We saw that in Tokyo, we saw that in Seoul and we expect to see that in Beijing as well," said Connelly.

A major issue that the Chinese hope to distract Trump from is China's trade surplus with the U.S., which reached $26.62 billion in October. Although the surplus was lower than the record $28.08 billion in September, it was still one of the highest in recent years, a Reuters calculation showed.

President Donald Trump visits the Forbidden City with China's President Xi Jinping in Beijing on November 8, 2017.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
President Donald Trump visits the Forbidden City with China's President Xi Jinping in Beijing on November 8, 2017.

In fact, what the Chinese and Xi want is a "very smooth visit full of pomp and circumstance and very little substance and very little friction," said Michael Fuchs, senior fellow at think tank Center for American Progress.

"That's why they are rolling out the red carpet for President Trump. They are hoping they can get a lot of what they got out of President Trump at Mar-a-Lago when the two presidents met earlier this year, which again was a very smooth, one where the two leaders praised one another, talked about how wonderful the relationship is, and the kinds of ways they want to work together in the future," he added to CNBC.

Beijing is attaching great importance to Trump's visit, during which he is expected to become the first U.S. president to be hosted for dinner at the Forbidden City, a former imperial palace.

The Chinese foreign ministry said the hospitality for Trump's visit is equal to what Xi received at Mar-a-Lago, where the Trumps offered "hospitable and considerate reception" to the Chinese leader and his wife, spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Tuesday.

China is "under the operative notion that, with Trump, flattery will get you everywhere," said Jim McGregor, a China expert who chair's the region for consultancy APCO Worldwide.

China is also probably hoping to get Trump to commit to a "great power relationship," with every other country playing minor roles, McGregor said. Or maybe Beijing is really just aiming to get the Americans "out of town without doing anything to embarrass Xi Jinping," he added.

China has revealed few details about Trump's visit, although business deals are expected to be brokered as Trump is accompanied by a delegation that includes executives from Boeing, Cheniere Energy and DowDuPont.

The U.S. will want more, however, including asking China to crack down much more on its economic relationship with North Korea, and to help bring the hermit regime to the negotiating table, Fuchs said.

As Trump has not had much success on either North Korea or trade issues, "he's going to have to work very hard when he's in the room with President Xi to get past all that pomp and circumstance and get down to business," Fuchs added.