WASHINGTON (Yonhap) – US President Donald Trump greeted Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday, kicking off a series of crucial first meetings where he plans to focus on reducing the trade deficit with the world's No. 2 economy and getting Beijing to exercise genuine pressure on North Korea.
Trump and the first lady Melania Trump welcomed Xi and Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan as they arrived at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida in a black limousine around 5:10 p.m. A military guard lined the drive on the way in, according to White House pool reports.
TV footage showed Trump, dressed in a dark suit with a red tie, shaking hands with Xi and saying to him, "Thank you very much."
Chinese President Xi Jinping poses for a photo with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson after arriving in Florida on April 6, 2017. (Yonhap)
Trump is scheduled to host state dinner for Xi. Formal summit talks are scheduled for Friday.
Trump hopes to use the talks to persuade and pressure China to use more of its leverage as the main provider of food and energy for the impoverished North to bring the provocative regime under control, and to reduce massive trade deficit with China.
"It's going to be very interesting. Nobody really knows. We have not been treated fairly on trade for many, many years. No presidents have taken care of that the way they should have," Trump said on Fox News earlier in the day. "And we have a big problem with North Korea. We're going to see what happens."
Asked if he hopes to get China to use its leverage over the North, Trump said, "We're going to see what happens. But I will tell you we will be in there pitching and I think we're going to do very well."
Later in the day, Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One that he believes China will agree to help.
"I think China will be stepping up," Trump said on the way to Florida, according to pool reports. Asked if he is ready to act unilaterally if China does not help, Trump said, "Certainly I would be," according to Reuters.
Tillerson, after greeting Xi at the airport, also stepped up pressure on China.
"We are hopeful that China will find ways to exercise influence over North Korea's actions to dismantle their nuclear weapons and their missile technology programs," Tillerson told reporters.
"Whether choosing their authority on the UN Security Council or utilizing new levers of power, China can be part of a new strategy to end North Korea's reckless behavior and ensure security, stability and economic prosperity in Northeast Asia," he said.
The summit comes as North Korea has been ratcheting up tensions with a series of banned ballistic missile launches, including the latest one earlier this week, in pursuit of development of a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the US.
Trump has long said North Korea is China's problem to fix, criticizing Beijing for refusing to use its influence over Pyongyang. He had even questioned why the US should stick to the "One China" policy of recognizing only Beijing, not Taiwan, when China is not helping with the North Korea problem, though he later promised to respect the policy.
China, considered the only country with any meaningful influence with the North, has been reluctant to use the leverage for fears that pushing the regime too hard could result in instability in the North and even its collapse, which could lead to the emergence of a pro-US nation on its border.
Trump said in an interview with the Financial Times published Sunday that China should help with the problem by using the "great influence" it has over Pyongyang, warning that if it doesn't, the US will solve the problem on its own, and that "won't be good for anyone."
Trump also said he would use trade as an incentive for China to take action on the North.
Earlier this week, a senior White House official said during a briefing to preview the summit that how to deal with North Korea is a "test of the relationship" between the US and China.
The Trump administration has shown increasing impatience with the North, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson openly mentioning the possibility of using military options during a trip to South Korea last month. After Tuesday's missile launch by the North, Tillerson issued an unusually blunt statement saying the US has spoken enough about North Korea.
The summit will also be watched closely as to whether the US stands up to China for bullying South Korea for hosting the US THAAD missile defense system designed to defend better against ever-growing missile threats from North Korea.
Just days before the meetings, a bipartisan group of 26 US senators sent a joint letter urging Trump to use the summit with Xi to bring an end to Beijing's retaliatory measures in an attempt to pressure Seoul to scrap the decision to have a THAAD battery.