Terrific. Tremendous. An extraordinary few days. Such was Donald Trump’s characterisation of his pomp-filled sojourn in Beijing.
Chinese newspapers and academics seconded those emotions on Friday morning, as the US president jetted off on the next leg of his Asian tour.
“China should be happy,” said Chen Daoyin, a Shanghai-based political scientist, calling the trip a diplomatic triumph for President Xi Jinping.
“The leader of the world’s number one power has just made a pilgrimage to him – this is naturally how all Chinese people will see it.”
“Trump has pleasantly surprised many who a year ago were deeply worried about a trade war given his harsh campaign rhetoric,” Chen Weihua, the deputy editor of the China Daily’s US edition, wrote in his appraisal of the billionaire’s “state visit-plus”.
“Trump has also surprised many for his relatively good handling of US-China relations, including forging a close working and personal relationship with President Xi Jinping.”
Only last year, Fudan University scholar Shen Dingli had suggested closing the Chinese embassy in Washington in protest at Trump’s engagement with Taiwan.
After this week’s visit Shen was in a forgiving mood. “More than a success,” the international relations expert said of Trump’s tour.
“Trump behaved moderately [and] respectfully … He showed respect to China’s leader and China’s culture … Xi has made Trump a better president.”
The front-pages of China’s Communist party controlled press were plastered with large and identical photographs of the leaders of the world’s top two economies with headlines commemorating how “comrade Xi” and his capitalist caller had agreed “to give full play to the idea of head-of-state diplomacy”.
An article in the party’s official mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, recounted scenes from a Thursday night farewell banquet at the opulent Mao-era theatre used to dazzle foreign heads of state. “The Great Hall of People’s Golden Hall looked resplendent and magnificent for this great gathering of distinguished guests,” the newspaper raved.
“Xi Jinping pointed out that while there is a vast ocean between China and the United States, geographical distance has never prevented these two great nations from coming together … As an old Chinese adage goes: ‘No distance, not even remote mountains and vast oceans can ever prevent people with perseverance from reaching their destination.’
The party’s internationally-focused media outlets were equally ebullient.
“Trump has softened his tone toward China on the trade issue,” an editorial in the state-run Global Times newspaper enthused, pointing to the president’s controversial claim that China was not to blame for the trade deficit.
The China Daily claimed the trip had seen “precious progress” that would “go a long way to anchoring the all-important, yet sometimes volatile, Sino-US relationship”.
As Trump flew onto Vietnam, he trumpeted a “very productive” visit to China but faced criticism for failing to stand up for human rights, press freedom or even American workers during his time in Beijing.
One critic claimed Beijing had played the US president “like a fiddle”. Another tweeted: “Trump can spin all he wants. His fealty to Xi Jinping over the last 48 hours will rank among his biggest foreign policy mistakes to date.”
Nonsense, said Shen, arguing that it was Trump’s job “to generate jobs, not enemies” by challenging Beijing over issues such as human rights or the South China Sea. “He is doing great.”
By Tom Phillips
Additional reporting by Wang Zhen