Home GRASP GRASP/China When China’s Dinner Partner Went To War

When China’s Dinner Partner Went To War

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Evan Osnos on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and the U. S. strike against Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
Standing soberly beside Donald Trump on Friday morning, as cameras recorded them preparing to enter Trump’s peach-colored Florida country club, Xi Jinping mustered only a Mona Lisa smile. It seemed to contain the question that unites more than a few around the world these days: How, in God’s name, did we get here—and where are we going?
The first face-to-face encounter between the American President and his Chinese counterpart was expected to follow a predictable arc—the plutocrat and the Communist, the blowhard and the sphinx, the weary protectionist and the reluctant globalist. But, just after eight o’clock on Thursday, as the two leaders were polishing off their New York strip and Dover sole, Trump  informed Xi  that he’d launched cruise missiles against Syrian armed forces. The strike was a response to the Syrian government’s use of sarin gas against civilians, and it drew applause from some in both the Democratic and Republican parties. It also reinjected American interests and treasure into a strategic swamp that has bedevilled Trump’s predecessors. Trump always promised to behave this way—“We’re so predictable. We’re like bad checker players,” he said during the campaign—but, for China, handling the new President just got more complicated.
There are many reasons for China to be unhappy. In terms of politics, the attack upstaged a carefully choreographed political pageant, intended for a Chinese audience, portraying Xi as the most important item on the American agenda this week. In terms of strategy, China gets hives whenever the U. S. unilaterally attacks another country—Beijing half-wonders if someday that country will be China—and, in this case, China has repeatedly rejected United Nations Security Council resolutions against Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad.

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