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Politics

China plays Donald Trump like a violin

Listen closely and you can hear the tune of the Xi Jinping Doctrine

TOKYO -- More than four months after U.S. President Donald Trump roared into office, China is now tipping bilateral relations to its favor, using its networking, financial and diplomatic resources.

While campaigning, the billionaire property tycoon advocated a hard line against China, especially on trade. But in a surprise flip-flop, he has adopted an increasingly conciliatory tone toward China since being inaugurated on Jan. 20.

To be sure, it is not unusual for a U.S. presidential candidate to talk tough about China only to soften his stance after being elected. But Trump's U-turn is still remarkable.

Much of this can be attributed to Trump's freewheeling personality. But China gets credit, too. Its strategy of setting its sights on a key official in the Trump administration and playing up a lone issue has paid off.

How is China actually using its networking, financial and diplomatic strengths?

Kushner roadshow

A high-profile roadshow was recently held at The Ritz-Carlton, Beijing. Its purpose was to encourage wealthy Chinese to invest in a condominium project developed by the Kushner Companies.

The marketing event was organized by the Qiaowai Group, which has expanded by helping Chinese emigrate. A poster at the event told attendees that investing at least $500,000 in a condo would help them get an EB-5 visa and put them on the path to permanent U.S. residence.

A growing number of Chinese wish to emigrate, partly because of President Xi Jinping's selective anti-corruption campaign. Business meetings offering Chinese people the chance to emigrate are not uncommon.

But the Ritz-Carlton event drew media attention. Two major U.S. newspapers, the Washington Post and the New York Times, noted that Nicole Kushner Meyer showed up to woo Chinese investors.

Kushner Meyer is the younger sister of Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser. Like the Trump family, the Kushners have made a fortune in real estate.

Jared Kushner formally stepped away from Kushner Companies, a diversified real estate company owned by the Kushner family, when he assumed the important government post. But Kushner Meyer remains a Kushner Companies executive.

The Beijing event was held to pitch One Journal Square, being developed by Kushner Companies in Jersey City, New Jersey.

A real estate executive -- even the sister of a White House adviser -- can be expected to market her company's condominiums. But during the event, Kushner Meyer referred to Jared Kushner, telling her audience that he went to Washington recently and was doing a government job.

Kushner Meyer's remarks raised concerns that she might have been using her family ties to the Trump White House to beef up her sales pitch.

But it also struck some observers as strange that the sister of a Trump adviser would be helping Chinese to immigrate to the U.S.

Trump is famously anti-immigrant.

As a candidate, Trump made immigration a key issue. Since taking office, he has actually signed executive orders designed to get tough on immigrants.

On May 7, Kushner Meyer appeared at a similar promotional event, in Shanghai. But she reportedly canceled plans to attend presentations in Guangzhou and Shenzhen, Guangdong Province.

Kushner Companies issued a statement apologizing for Kushner Meyer referencing Jared Kushner's job in Washington in her sales pitch to Chinese investors.

"Kushner Companies apologizes if that mention of her brother was in any way interpreted as an attempt to lure investors. That was not Ms. Meyer's intention," the company said.

The Qiaowai Group touted its closeness to the Kushner family when it organized the May 6 roadshow. Ding Ying, the Qiaowai Group's top executive, was invited to Trump's inauguration ceremony.

It is unclear how much influence China's communist regime has over the Qiaowai Group. But if the company did not have close relations with Chinese authorities, it would never be able to act as an emigration broker.

The recent roadshow suggests that the communist regime has secured a channel straight to the Trump administration. Well, perhaps not "straight;" it does take Qiaowai Group and Kushner family detours.

The networking summit

Beijing has other channels to the Kushners -- and the White House.

On the night of Nov. 16 -- about a week after Trump gained his electoral college victory over Hillary Clinton -- Jared Kushner dined with a Chinese business mogul at a Chinese restaurant in the Waldorf Astoria, an upscale hotel in Midtown Manhattan, New York City.

According to the New York Times, Kushner hobnobbed with Wu Xiaohui, chairman of Anbang Insurance Group, a major Chinese insurer. The table was laden with Chinese delicacies and $2,100 bottles of Chateau Lafite Rothschild.

Anbang Insurance Group became a global name in 2014, when it acquired the Waldorf Astoria for $1.95 billion. Wu is also known for having tied the knot with the granddaughter of Deng Xiaoping.

Media reports in March said Anbang Insurance Group was considering a huge investment in a project to redevelop Kushner Companies' Manhattan skyscraper.

But soon afterward, Kushner Companies announced that it had ended talks with the Chinese group regarding the deal.

Cui Tiankai, China's ambassador to the U.S., began building connections to Jared Kushner shortly after Trump's electoral victory.

Many observers think Cui has used Chinese business leaders' personal connections, including those of Anbang Insurance Group's Wu and Qiaowai Group's Ding -- as well as China's financial muscle -- to cozy up to Kushner.

So involved in Trump administration decision-making, Kushner has been called "the secretary of everything" by U.S. media.

It is said that Kushner and Cui worked together to arrange the first Xi-Trump summit, held in April at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

Ivanka Trump, Kushner's wife and Trump's daughter, also serves as a presidential adviser. Ivanka, a former model, is the founder of an eponymous fashion label.

According to the AP, a U.S news agency, Ivanka on April 6 won provisional approval for three trademarks, including for jewelry and bags, from Chinese authorities. That was the same day she dined with the leaders during the U.S.-China summit.

The dinner was also attended by the wives of the U.S. and Chinese presidents.

If this sounds dodgy, consider that the Trump administration has been dogged by various ethics issues. "Russiagate" -- an investigation into ties between figures in the Trump campaign and Russian officials -- has seriously shaken the administration.

There are also suspicions of the Trump administration falling under the sway of Chinese money.

For Beijing, being able to influence U.S. policies would be of great advantage.

But even if China cannot pull this off, it could still benefit as the Trump administration erodes Washington's global leadership position.

'Xi Jinping Doctrine'

China is also flexing its diplomatic muscle with the Trump administration, apparently seeing escalating tensions over North Korea's nuclear and missile development as both a risk and an opportunity.

The Trump administration has prioritized North Korea as a top security issue.

While hinting at the possibility of using military force against North Korea, the Trump administration has pressured Beijing to exert its influence over Pyongyang.

China is North Korea's biggest trading partner, and Pyongyang considers Beijing its natural ally.

The Trump administration has pressured China to do more to rein in North Korea, but Beijing is struggling to persuade Kim Jong Un to abandon his nuclear and missile programs.

It can also be said, however, that China is using its unique ties to North Korea to gain an edge in its relations with the U.S.

North Korea's recent series of provocations is having a similar impact on U.S.-China relations as did the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S.

Then U.S. President George W. Bush, who took office in January of that year, initially took a tough stance toward China. But the terrorist attacks drastically softened Bush on China, and bilateral relations blossomed.

A Beijing watcher once said that although the terrorist attacks were a "tragedy" for the U.S., they were "very useful" for China's development.

The North Korea threat is useful, all right. In a speech delivered at an international conference in Shanghai in 2014, Xi said that Asia's problems should be dealt with by Asians. Likewise, he said, Asia's security should be ensured by Asians.

A senior Chinese government official had earlier floated the idea of jointly managing the Pacific Ocean to a senior U.S. military official. The idea called for the U.S. to manage the eastern half of the Pacific and for China to manage the western half.

China's goal is likely to eliminate U.S. influence in Asian security matters and to put the region under its own sway.

This is reminiscent of the Monroe Doctrine, considered a turning point in U.S. foreign policy. It was first issued in the 1820s by James Monroe, the fifth president of the U.S., who came out against Europe interfering in North and South America.

Is Beijing laying the ground for a "Xi Jinping Doctrine?"

To counter China's ambitions in Asia, former U.S. President Barack Obama advocated for a "rebalance" of U.S. power to Asia" and pushed the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.

Trump has since pulled the U.S. out of the TPP and is now counting on China to deal with North Korea. The Trump administration has also publicly said it will consider China's positions in its many South China Sea disputes.

It's not difficult to hear that violin playing.

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