Fri, Apr 07, 2017 - Page 9 News List

China recognizes Kushner as path to the US president

Beijing’s courtship of Donald Trump’s son-in-law reflects a Chinese comfort with dynastic links

By Mark Landler  /  NY Times News Service, WASHINGTON

Illustration: Mountain People

When US President Donald Trump welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) to his palm-fringed Florida club for two days of meetings yesterday, the studied informality of the gathering was to bear the handiwork of two people: Chinese Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai (崔天凱) and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Cui has established a busy back channel to Kushner, according to several officials briefed on the relationship.

The two men agreed on the club, Mar-a-Lago, as the site for the meeting, and the ambassador even sent Kushner drafts of a joint statement that China and the US could issue afterward.

Kushner’s central role reflects the peculiar nature not only of the first meeting between Trump and Xi, but also of the broader relationship between the US and China in the early days of the Trump administration.

It is at once highly personal and bluntly transactional — a strategy that carries significant risks, experts said, given the economic and security issues that divide the countries.

While Chinese officials have found Trump a bewildering figure with a penchant for inflammatory statements, they have come to at least one clear judgment: In Trump’s Washington, his son-in-law is the man to know.

Kushner first made his influence felt in early February when he and Cui orchestrated a fence-mending telephone call between Trump and Xi.

During that exchange, Trump pledged to abide by the US’ four-decade-old “one China” policy on Taiwan, despite his earlier suggestion that it was up for negotiation.

Now, Trump wants something in return: He plans to press Xi to intensify economic sanctions against North Korea to pressure the country to shut down its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

He has also vowed to protest the chronic trade imbalance between the US and China, which he railed against during his presidential campaign.

China’s courtship of Kushner, which has coincided with the marginalization of the US Department of State in the Trump administration, reflects a Chinese comfort with dynastic links.

Xi is himself a “princeling”: His father was Xi Zhongxun (習仲勳), a major figure in the communist revolution who was later purged by Mao Zedong (毛澤東).

Not only is Kushner married to the US president’s daughter Ivanka, but he is also one of his most influential advisers — a 36-year-old with no previous government experience, but an exceptionally broad portfolio under his father-in-law.

“Since [former US secretary of state Henry] Kissinger, the Chinese have been infatuated with gaining and maintaining access to the White House,” said Evan Medeiros, former US National Security Council senior director for Asian affairs in the administration of former US president Barack Obama. “Having access to the [US] president’s family and somebody they see as a princeling is even better.”

Former US officials and China experts said that the Chinese had prepared more carefully for this visit than the White House, which is still debating how harshly to confront Beijing, and which has yet to fill many important posts in the US Department of State.

Several said that if Trump presented China with an ultimatum on North Korea, it could backfire.

“China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t,” Trump said in an interview with the Financial Times that was published on Sunday. “And if they do, that will be very good for China, and if they don’t, it won’t be good for anyone.”

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