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Xi-Trump meeting can chart course for constructive ties | Updated: 2017-03-30 20:16

Until the NATO meeting was rescheduled, there was plenty of hullabaloo over US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson planning to skip the NATO foreign ministers meeting, originally scheduled for April 5-6, in order to attend the meeting between the Chinese and US presidents.

Many interpreters were unanimous on one point: The Trump administration was attaching more importance to relations with China than those with NATO.

While this may be an over-interpretation, since the relationships are hardly comparable, it does reveal the truth that Beijing and Washington share an eagerness to ballast their ties.

From cost sharing to the future orientation of the alliance, it seems the new administration in Washington has a lot to talk about with its NATO allies.

But the first face-to-face meeting between President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Donald Trump is charged with charting a cooperative course for a relationship that is more difficult to define and manage.

Considering the vicissitudes in bilateral ties after Trump took office, including his tough talk and the phone conversation he had with Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen, the conciliatory tone adopted since, from himself, as well as his secretaries of state and defense, offers optimism the two leaders can use their meeting to eliminate any lingering sense of uncertainty.

A short two-day meeting may not suffice for all questions to be answered. But it can certainly contribute a clear and constructive sense of direction to this crucial relationship.

Xi has on many occasions reiterated Beijing’s aspiration for a relationship of “no confrontation, no conflict, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation”.

Tillerson uttered the same words in Beijing, pledging commitment to a “constructive relationship”, so the meeting has good foundations to build on.

Besides exchanging viewpoints on the potentially most inflammable flashpoints in ties, the two leaders will likely discuss the global economic situation and their trade relations.

In both these areas they may maneuver new agreements and crisis prevention mechanisms, as good communication will be essential to steer clear of misunderstandings as the Trump team is changing some of the policies of the previous administration.

Whatever ends up being discussed, the fact that Xi and Trump will compare notes in person matters.

Although they have talked twice on the phone and exchanged vows to work together for better ties, their meeting next week offers them the opportunity to step up to the plate and give substance to their words.

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