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China Learns How to Get Trump’s Ear: Through Jared Kushner

President Xi Jinping of China is poised to arrive in Florida on Thursday for two days of meetings with President Trump

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When President Trump welcomes President Xi Jinping of China to his palm-fringed Florida club for two days of meetings on Thursday, the studied informality of the gathering will bear the handiwork of two people: China’s ambassador to Washington and Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

When President Trump welcomes President Xi Jinping of China to his palm-fringed Florida club for two days of meetings on Thursday, the studied informality of the gathering will bear the handiwork of two people: China’s ambassador to Washington and Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

The Chinese ambassador, Cui Tiankai, has established a busy back channel to Mr. Kushner, according to several officials briefed on the relationship. The two men agreed on the club, Mar-a-Lago, as the site for the meeting, and the ambassador even sent Mr. Kushner drafts of a joint statement that China and the United States could issue afterward.

Mr. Kushner’s central role reflects not only the peculiar nature of this first meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi, but also of the broader relationship between the United States and China in the early days of the Trump administration. It is at once highly personal and bluntly transactional — a strategy that carries significant risks, experts said, given the economic and security issues that already divide the countries.

While Chinese officials have found Mr. Trump a bewildering figure with a penchant for inflammatory statements, they have come to at least one clear judgment: In Mr. Trump’s Washington, his son-in-law is the man to know.

Mr. Kushner first made his influence felt in early February when he and Mr. Cui orchestrated a fence-mending phone call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi. During that exchange, Mr. Trump pledged to abide by the four-decade-old “One China” policy on Taiwan, despite his earlier suggestion that it was up for negotiation.

Now Mr. Trump wants something in return: He plans to press Mr. Xi to intensify economic sanctions against North Korea to pressure the country to shut down its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. He has also vowed to protest the chronic trade imbalance between the United States and China, which he railed against during his presidential campaign.

China’s courtship of Mr. Kushner, which has coincided with the marginalization of the State Department in the Trump administration, reflects a Chinese comfort with dynastic links. Mr. Xi is himself a “princeling”: His father was Xi Zhongxun, a major figure in the Communist revolution who was later purged by Mao Zedong.

Not only is Mr. Kushner married to the president’s daughter Ivanka, but he is also one of his most influential advisers — a 36-year-old with no previous government experience but an exceptionally broad portfolio under his father-in-law.

“Since Kissinger, the Chinese have been infatuated with gaining and maintaining access to the White House,” said Evan S. Medeiros, a senior director for Asia in the Obama administration. “Having access to the president’s family and somebody they see as a princeling is even better.”

Former American officials and China experts warned that the Chinese had prepared more carefully for this visit than the White House, which is still debating how harshly to confront Beijing, and which has yet to fill many important posts in the State Department. Several said that if Mr. Trump presented China with an ultimatum on North Korea, it could backfire.

“China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with The Financial Times that was published on Sunday. “And if they do, that will be very good for China, and if they don’t, it won’t be good for anyone.”

The president said that he had “great respect” for the Chinese leader, but that he would warn him that “we cannot continue to trade if we are going to have an unfair deal like we have right now.”

Shortly after winning the election, Mr. Trump said he might use the “One China” policy, under which the United States recognizes a single Chinese government in Beijing and has severed its diplomatic ties with Taiwan, as a bargaining chip for greater Chinese cooperation on trade or North Korea.

Mr. Trump had thrown that policy into doubt after taking a congratulatory phone call from the president of Taiwan. That caused consternation in Beijing, and Mr. Xi refused to get on the phone with Mr. Trump until he reaffirmed the policy.

After the two leaders finally spoke, the White House said in a statement that the men had “discussed numerous topics, and President Trump agreed, at the request of President Xi, to honor our One China policy.” Mr. Trump insisted on that wording, according to a person briefed on the process, because he wanted to make clear that he had made a concession to Mr. Xi.

Source: NY Times

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