Xi Jinping’s year in diplomacy: from butting heads with Donald Trump to cosying up to Rodrigo Duterte



The major tête-à-têtes between Xi and world leaders have been portrayed in Chinese state media as significantly bolstering his presence abroad in what was glowingly termed “heads of state” diplomacy.

But China’s increasing international footprint – including Xi’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative – has also faced an increasing pushback, from concerns about debt trap diplomacy to unease about the country’s broader strategic intentions.

As the year draws to a close, we take a look at some of Xi’s most important sit-downs in 2018.

US President Donald Trump: from bromance to frenemies

After brokering a “bromance” through reciprocal state visits in Beijing and Florida last year, Xi and Trump began to butt heads over their long-standing bilateral trade issues.

Eventually, Trump began a trade war by slapping tariffs on billions of dollars of Chinese goods, which quickly escalated into a string of retaliatory measures and counter-measures.

Meanwhile, the two sides clashed on the strategic front. This saw the US sanctioning a key Chinese military unit and a series of stand-offs in the disputed South China Sea, including a near-collision between two warships late in September.

With Mattis’ resignation, what’s next for US-China military ties?

Earlier that month Trump had said of Xi “maybe he isn’t [my friend] any more” and suggested that China was no longer putting pressure on North Korea. He also accused Beijing of meddling in US elections – offering only a paid-for supplement in an Iowa newspaper as evidence.

The pair’s only meeting this year came at the G20 summit in Argentina, when they sat down for dinner on December 1. There they agreed a 90-day trade truce, providing a window of opportunity to try to redress a series of US grievances from the trade imbalance between the two sides to structural issues in China’s economy.

In the midst of rising tensions on the Korean peninsula, Xi met Kim in Beijing in March for the North Korean leader’s first overseas trip since coming to power in 2011.

During the secret trip, heralded by the arrival of a mysterious armoured train in the Chinese capital, Kim hinted at denuclearisation and his willingness to talk to the US.