Saturday, November 18, 2017
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Trump Granted Special Honor Chinese Have Bestowed on No Other President

On Wednesday, as part of his trip to China, President Trump became the first U.S. president to receive a dinner inside Beijing’s Forbidden City, the New York Daily News reported.

“President Trump is being treated like a royal during his visit to China, and received a rare dinner inside the country’s most famed imperial palace,” the newspaper noted.

“Trump arrived in Beijing on Wednesday as part of his 12-day tour of Asia, and was greeted by a small army of children waving American and Chinese flags as part of an elaborate welcoming ceremony.”

According to WKOW-TV, no foreign leader has received a dinner inside the palace in 68 years — since the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

The Forbidden City is an elaborate palace complex that served as the seat of the Imperial Chinese Dragon Throne from 1420 to 1912. It was built after Emperor Zhu Di moved the capital of the Chinese empire from Nanjing to Beijing.

Constructed over a period of 14 years, it required a million workers to complete. When the Republic of China came into being in the early 20th century, the Forbidden City ceased to be the seat of government. In 1925, parts of it became a museum.

While a state dinner in the Forbidden City is unheard of for a U.S. president, it is worth noting that during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the United States earlier this year, President Trump took him to Mar-a-Lago, a stately residence of slightly more recent provenance. I guess Xi was just returning the favor.

Fatuous jokes aside, the state dinner had obvious political implications.

In the past month, Xi has been in the process of one of the most impressive consolidations of power in China since the Mao years. In mid-October, the Chinese leader presided over the 19th Party Congress — a gathering that, in a country where democracy is non-existent, serves in its decisiveness as the dictatorial version of election night. It was the first Party Congress Xi chaired, and, as The Economist noted, “(t)he test will reveal whether he is a rule-breaker or a rule-keeper.”

Xi definitely went the rule-breaker route. At the Congress, he introduced “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.” That sounds more snoozeworthy than a cricket match on rain delay, but much like Ron Burgundy, it’s kind of a big deal.

A Chinese leader putting his name on a program that guides Beijing’s future development both nationally and internationally is almost unprecedented since Mao, and the fact that it’s mostly accepted by the party faithful has made Xi the most powerful Chinese ruler in decades.

Or, as Trump put it more succinctly, “Now some people might call him the king.”

Now that he’s consolidated power at home, smoothing things over abroad is Xi’s next big challenge, particularly when it comes to the United States.

Trump has repeatedly called out China on trade and its relationship with North Korea, both issues that could destabilize Xi’s hold on power in the long term should things get ugly.

Thus, the royal welcome and the state dinner inside the Forbidden City, a historical site of considerable pride for a country known for considerable nationalism makes sense. That’s probably not going to make anyone in the Trump administration forget about Beijing’s on-again-off-again relationship with Pyongyang or its trade policies — but if flattery won’t get China everywhere in this case, one guesses Xi and his retinue hope it will at least get them somewhere.