U.S.- China Relations

A Bygone America Hosted in the Forbidden City’s 21st Century

By Andrej Mrevlje |

We all expected Trump’s visit to China to be historic and important. As shown, it was a mistaken assumption. The visit was banal and without suspense. The hope is that somebody else, the people called sherpas, did more serious work than these two bad performers.

When Donald Trump landed in Beijing he was greeted by Xi Jinping in the Forbidden City. We saw the presidential couple visit some of the palaces, roam the huge Imperial complex, and have a tea and chat before sitting for the dinner. There were very few people around Trump and Xi and their spouses. The huge empty spaces within the palace must have been unpleasant for Trump, who enjoys crowds so much, while the Chinese leader, on the other hand, considers the solitude an imperial privilege. But it was the utmost the host could offer his American guest with his Slovenian wife. Nevermind that no previous Chinese guest was received in the Forbidden city. They all visited it, but the Chinese leader never appeared with the foreign guest in the palace that during the Empire was banned to foreign barbarians. It was us, the “foreign devils” who started to call the Gugong (故宫, The Old Palace) the Forbidden City. It never was forbidden to Trump, apparently.

It was an important visit, for the Chinese, for the U.S, and the world. This time, though usually unpredictable, the American president followed the script prepared for him. There was not, as much as I could tell, much of the awkwardness he is known for, and even his tweets ceased for the period Trump visited China. There was, however, a little exchange that showed the ignorance of the 45th. It was during the walk in the Forbidden City, when Trump, aware of the cameras, stopped and said to Xi something to the effect of, “So what we see here is 5,000 years of Chinese culture.” Xi politely corrected that there are only 3,000 years of recorded Chinese history, but Trump apparently did not hear him, immediately adding that Egyptian culture was actually older, since it has 8,000 years. Xi then remarked that only Chinese culture is continued and consistent. Trump then repeated the question that bothered him most, asking again if what he was watching was the original form of culture. Xi then ended the little exchange by saying yes, the Chinese are the descendants of dragons, as the black hair and yellow skin proves. It is hard to say if the Xi’s remark was sarcastic or as equally banal as Trump’s question about the Forbidden City, built at the beginning of the Ming Dynasty 600 hundred years ago, not 5,000 years ago. And the Trump Towers?

As we predicted, the visit to Beijing went well. Memorandums of Understanding for huge amounts of money signed, Xi did not tell Trump to move American battleships out of the Pacific but said there is enough space for two. Well, there is not, and the visit in Beijing served to gain some time for both sides, giving the priority to the immediate threat of North Korea. Most of the uneventful and predictable encounter between the two leaders served also as a furtherance of the American first lady’s fashion career, so unsentimentally interrupted by the election of her real estate tycoon husband to the nation’s highest office.

On a more serious note, Eric Schmidt of Google was cited in the New York Times, when comparing China and the U.S:

At home, Mr. Xi is making strategic investments that could allow China to dominate the 21st-century global economy, including in information technology and artificial intelligence — where, Eric Schmidt of Google has warned, China is poised to overtake the United States in the next decade. Mr. Xi is all-in on robotics, aerospace, high-speed rail, new-energy vehicles and advanced medical products. 

Mr. Trump’s “strategic” investments — in coal and a quixotic effort to bring back manufacturing lost to automation — would make the United States the champion of the 20th-century economy.

With his extreme “America First” policy, Trump is placing his country in the past, where he and his voters long for meaning. As China knows, it is not the way the world is today. They’re running forward, America is racing back.


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