WEST PALM BEACH (CBSMiami) – Two of the world’s most powerful leaders met for the first time face-to-face in Florida – President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping.
Their meeting, during a two-day summit in Mar-a-Lago, comes at a crucial time.
“It is a great honor to have the president of china and his incredibly talented wife, a great, great celebrity in China, a great singer. It’s an honor to have you in the United States,” Trump said.
It was a far cry from what candidate Trump had to say on the campaign trail.
“We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country. And that’s what they’re doing. It’s the greatest theft in the history of the world,” he said while campaigning. “I’m going to instruct my treasury secretary to label China a currency manipulator… which should have been done years ago.”
President Trump is realizing now that a certain amount of diplomacy is needed, even as he looks to make deals with the Chinese president.
“We had a long discussion already. So far, I have gotten nothing. Absolutely nothing. But we have developed a friendship. I can see that. I think, long-term, we are going to have a very, very great relationship and I look very much forward to it,” he said.
Trade, very much on the menu during this brief South Florida summit.
Among the topics, North Korea’s nuclear program is a top priority. The communist country tested another missile just two days ago.
Kim Jong-un’s aggressive pursuit of nuclear weapons is a threat to the region and the world.
President Trump, speaking to the Financial Times, said, “If china is not going to solve North Korea, we will.”
China has leverage over North Korea. The question is: Can trump get them to use it?
“The North Koreans have gotten pretty good at acting like the crazy, drunk neighbor with a submachine gun at the end of the block – and the Chinese don’t want any trouble,” said Michael Green, Center for Strategic & International Studies.
Protesters lined the street leading to the so-called “Winter White House” where the two world leaders talked tough topics.
CBS4’s Carey Codd spoke to a group of protesters of Vietnamese background who want Trump to take a hard-line against China.
“We want America to know that China is very bad country, aggressive in the world. Oppression for human rights, freedom,” said Dr. Huu Vo with the Federation of Vietnamese American Communities.
As President Jinping arrived, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said they arrested three people for trying to block the roadway and obstruct the motorcade.
Other protesters gathered near Mar-a-Lago. Alex Newell Taylor is with Women’s March Florida. She believes the president is hypocritical on China.
“He claims to be bringing jobs back to America. Meanwhile, he has all of his ties and clothing made in China. He pledged to use American steel and he’s using Chinese Steel. It’s full of hypocrisy,” said Taylor.
The White House says the president hopes to re-boot the relationship with China during this high-profile trip. He and President Xi will have time to get to know each other in an informal setting along with their wives before getting down to business.
Critics are questioning the “pleasure” portion of the visit, and whether the setting is appropriate since the Trump family owns Mar-a-Lago.
“What he is doing is actually using government office for private gain,” said Government Ethics Specialist Kathleen Clark.
The White House has not said if the Chinese delegation will pay for any services while visiting the resort.
Prior to their dinner, Trump ordered an air strike against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in retaliation to this week’s chemical weapons attack that killed more than 80 people, including children.
“Tonight I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria,” he said. “And also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types.”