WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump plans to host Chinese President Xi Jinping at a two-day summit next month, according to media reports, as his administration seeks to smooth relations with the world’s second-largest economy.
The meeting is tentatively scheduled for April 6-7 at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, U.S. online media outlet Axios reported on Monday, citing officials familiar with the plans.
CNN also reported the planned summit, citing an unnamed administration official. It said the plan was tentative and that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was expected to finalise plans during a trip this week to Asia, which includes a stop in China.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer said on Monday the White House was preparing for a meeting between the two leaders but was not ready to announce a date.
“Planning is ongoing for a visit between President Trump and President Xi at a date to be determined,” Spicer said, saying any meeting would cover North Korea and other issues.
In previewing Tillerson’s Asia visit, U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State Susan Thornton told reporters it would “to some extent be paving the way for future high-level meetings between our two presidents.”
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said both countries were in “close communication” about exchanges between their leaders, and that information would be issued in a timely manner.
A summit would follow a string of other recent U.S.-China meetings and conversations aimed at mending ties after strong criticism of China by Trump during his election campaign.
Thornton said the United States was “pursuing a results-oriented relationship with China; one that benefits the American people and one that remains faithful to our allies and presses China to abide by international rules and norms.”
She said Tillerson had urged China in previous meetings to do all it can to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and “to create a level playing field for trade and investment.”
“We want to be able to pursue a constructive discussion with China that enables us to get at problem areas,” she said.
China’s top diplomat, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, visited Washington last month and met Trump and Tillerson.
During his campaign, Trump accused China of unfair trade policies, criticized its island-building in the strategic South China Sea, and accused it of doing too little to constrain its neighbour, North Korea.
Trump incensed Beijing in December by taking a phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and later saying the United States did not have to stick to the so-called “one China” policy.
Trump later agreed in a phone call with Xi to honour the long-standing policy and has also written to Xi since seeking “constructive ties.”
Tillerson, making his first trip to Asia as secretary of state, will visit China on Saturday and Sunday and meet Xi and other leaders.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will visit Japan and Indonesia as part of an Asian tour next month, sources said on Monday, amid concerns that the Trump administration is rolling back former President Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia.”
Thorton said the United States was a Pacific power and would “certainly be remaining active and engaged in Asia,” whether or not the terminology remained the same.
Reporting by Susan Heavey, Roberta Rampton, Emily Stephenson, David Brunnstrom and Yeganeh Torbati in Washington, and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Frances Kerry and Jonathan Oatis