‘Javanka’ fans across China had been counting the days until the power couple’s arrival.
“They’re a role model couple … highly motivated and positive. That’s what lifts me up when I feel down,” raved Chen Bo, a media executive from the southern city of Guangzhou.
Guo Anni, a Beijing-based advertising rep, hailed Donald Trump’s eldest daughter as a paragon of female beauty and power: “I just buy Ivanka’s whole outlook on life.”
Yet this month’s hotly anticipated trip to China by the president’s daughter and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, now appears to have been scrapped, amid renewed anxieties over the state of relations between Washington and Beijing.
The September stay was conceived as a glamour-packed but intensely political tour that would pave the way for a state visit from the president himself later this year. But Kushner, a 36-year-old property tycoon who is among the president’s top aides, declined China’s invitation to visit, the New York Times reported this week.
Trump administration officials alleged a visit had never been scheduled and could not, therefore, have been cancelled – a claim China specialists gave short shrift.
“[That’s] BS,” said Bill Bishop, a well-connected Washington-based China expert who authors the Sinocism newsletter. “They were definitely talking about it.”
The White House’s interim communications chief, Hope Hicks, did not immediately respond to emailed questions about the apparently aborted Javanka visit. But China’s foreign ministry hinted that their arrival was not imminent. “China and the US have maintained close communication and exchange at various levels,” was spokesman Geng Shuang’s vague answer when asked if the trip was still on.
Asked if that implied Javanka was no longer be coming, Geng repeated: “As I said just now, China and the US have maintained close communication and exchange at various levels.”
The trip’s cancellation will disappoint a legion of Chinese Javanka aficionados, many of them young, educated and upwardly mobile women who revere the president’s daughter in particular as a symbol of grace and drive. Two recent Chinese-language books – Ivanka Trump: Women, Wealth and Life and Love Yourself in Your Life: Ivanka Trump’s Law of Life – underscore the respect and affection the 35-year-old commands here.
“She is so hardworking and has such self-discipline,” enthused Zhang Xiaohang, 33, a Beijing-based masters student and devotee. “I know she has an unreliable dad [so] I’m curious how she has been raised so well.”
Chen Bo, 35, who runs a media startup, had planned to blog about the trip. Chen said Ivanka, who has three children, was “super-smart” as well as rich, independent and beautiful. “You’ve got to be bright to play a part in House of Cards.”
The first daughter’s husband also enjoys a Chinese following. “Kushner is perfect,” Chen cooed. “He’s got a superb nose for business, his body is in great shape for a man in his thirties and he’s not been caught up in any affairs.”
Some Chinese politicos tried to shrug off the significance of Javanka’s apparent rejection of China’s invitation. “It won’t affect China-US relations. [Ivanka] should never have been coming to China anyway … There isn’t a single country in the world that relies on a daughter to improve bilateral relations,” said Fudan University US expert Shen Dingli.
Shi Yinhong, an international relations specialist from Renmin University in Beijing, said that while he did not understand the motives behind the cancellation the backdrop to it was one of growing friction between the world’s top two economies: “Trump is putting constant pressure on China and threatening China over the North Korea issue, and he’s made trouble with China on trade.”
Bishop said the cancellation was a blow to Chinese diplomats who had “put a lot of effort into cultivating Javanka” hoping the celebrity couple could help stabilise US-China relations and neutralise Trump’s China-bashing tendencies.
Earlier this summer China’s ambassador to the US, Cui Tiankai, dined with the couple at Washington’s 263-room Trump International Hotel. In February, diplomats at China’s US embassy rolled out the red carpet for Ivanka Trump and the couple’s Mandarin-speaking daughter, Arabella.
“The Chinese really put the moves on and they can be quite charming and quite convincing when they want to be … They do believe that if the kids are on board then that is a useful thing – and they are right,” Bishop said.
Kushner, in particular, was being groomed as a key channel to the Oval Office: “The Chinese always like the Kissinger-type role, that one person they can work with, and they had really hoped it would be Jared … [But] I think they have realised the utility of Javanka is less than they originally thought … The Chinese are not as confident as they were a couple of months ago.”
The scrapping of Javanka’s trip to China has also raised questions about Trump’s own visit. He is still expected to visit in mid-November, after a key Communist party congress, despite festering concerns about the possibility of a major fall-out between Beijing and Washington.
However, Shi hinted that even that visit, while still “quite likely”, was no longer seen as a completely done deal. “Uncertainties also exist. There are ups and downs in China-US relations, and Trump, in particular, is very volatile.”
By Tom Phillips
Additional reporting by Wang Zhen