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Understanding Xi’s entourage

Apr 10,2017
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After U.S. President Donald Trump met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida over the weekend, Trump said, “We have developed a friendship.” The two are hoping to set the foundation for U.S.-China relations in the next 40 years.

In June 2013, 86 days after Xi’s inauguration, he met with President Barack Obama at Sunnylands in California. By comparison, Xi and Trump met 76 days after Trump’s inauguration, 10 days earlier than four years ago.

The meeting has been compared to Deng Xiaoping’s first visit to the United States 38 years ago. In January 1979, Deng condoned U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and normalized diplomatic relations. China needed America’s acquiescence on its invasion of Vietnam, which China called a “self-defense strike.” Deng told President Jimmy Carter, “The little child is getting naughty. It’s time he be spanked.” Then China attacked Vietnam upon Deng’s return.

For this summit, Xi made some changes to his entourage. It now includes Wang Huning and Wang Yang, who accompanied Xi on the G-20 meeting in Hangzhou in September 2016. It is a variation of the Li Zhanshu-Wang Huning lineup.

Xi used to have Wang Huning, head of the Central Policy Research Office, and Li Zhanshu, director of the General Office, by his side for summit meetings. In 2016, Li Zhanshu, Wang Huning and Wang Yang accompanied Xi 205 times, 193 times and 31 times, respectively. It is unusual for Vice Premier Wang Yang to come before Li.

Wang Huning is a strategist who also assisted Xi’s predecessors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. He was behind the 2013 no-tie summit at Sunnylands. The following year, he orchestrated the no-tie moonlight stroll between Xi and Obama at Zhongnanhai’s Yingtai. This new type of great power relations — no conflict or confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation — is said to be Wang’s idea. He spent six months in the U.S. in 1988 as a visiting professor and researched America’s strengths and weaknesses, visiting 30 cities across the country.

Wang Yang is the vice premier of economic affairs. He is the chief Chinese delegate in the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. His predecessor was Wang Qishan, secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. Wang Yang is overseeing the eradication of poverty, a major policy focus of Xi’s. Last year, he lifted 12 million people out of poverty and is considered to be at the top of the list for promotion to the Politburo Standing Committee.

Wang Huning is also under consideration for Politburo Standing Committee membership. He studied the 200-year rise of America in the modern era and the Chinese empire’s decline, and proposed the Chinese dream, finding an answer from new authoritarianism. At Mar-a-Lago, Wang Huning and Wang Yang closely observed Trump.

As the two countries enter a new era of ties, Korea needs to establish thorough plans to respond to the global strategies of the U.S. and China.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 8, Page 30

*The author is the Beijing correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo.

SHIN KYUNG-JIN