President Donald Trump told China’s State Councilor Yang Jiechi in a meeting that the U.S. is willing to cooperate with Beijing on projects related to its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, according to a statement from China’s foreign ministry.
Since his April meeting with Xi in Florida, Trump has toned down the anti-China rhetoric he campaigned on, and sent Matt Pottinger, National Security Council senior director for East Asia, as the U.S. representative at China’s first Belt and Road Forum in May. Engagement with President Xi Jinping’s signature project to build new trade and investment links between Asia, Europe and Africa would mark a contrast to the Obama administration, which turned down the opportunity to be a founding member of the related Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Yang told Trump in a White House meeting Thursday that China highly appreciated the U.S. attendance at the gathering and would be willing to work with the U.S. on the initiative, the ministry said in the statement. The president responded that he would also be open to working together on related projects, according to the statement.
The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Trump told Yang that he’s happy with the positive progress made in relations since meeting Xi and is looking forward to meeting him again in the Group of 20 nations summit next month in Hamburg, Germany, and visiting China within the year, according to the statement.
As signs that a visit by the U.S. President were not on the cards multiplied, China had invited Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, both of whom have official jobs in the White House, to visit later this year, Bloomberg reported this week, citing people familiar with the matter.
Support from the White House for Belt and Road would be “a boon for China-U.S. relations,” said He Weiwen, deputy director of the Beijing-based Center for China and Globalization, and a former business attache in the Chinese consulates of New York and San Francisco. “The Belt and Road projects are so big that Chinese companies can’t do them alone. They need to find partners elsewhere, including the U.S.”
U.S. companies have already been deeply involved in the projects along the path, and business leaders in both sides have been calling for cooperation in third countries, he said.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, a Beijing-based think tank staffed by a number of retired senior government officials, said in a joint statement Wednesday that the two nations can engage in full cooperation under the Belt and Road initiative and through a number of other means including the AIIB, World Bank, and other multilateral investment and financing institutions.
Trump isn’t the only U.S. leader who’s expressed openness to Belt and Road. California Governor Jerry Brown told Xi in a meeting in Beijing this month the most populous state is willing to join the initiative and expand cooperation on green technology, innovation and trade, according to a statement from the governor’s office and a report from the official Xinhua News Agency.
Yang and Trump also discussed North Korea, with the president saying the U.S. looks forward to better cooperation with China on addressing nuclear issues and working toward the de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the ministry said. Yang reiterated that China is willing to keep working with parties including the U.S. to ease tensions in the region.
Yang and other top officials were in Washington this week to take part in the new U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue, a forum aimed at addressing key disputes between the world’s two largest economies, as well as security issues where they can work together.