By Philip Wen and Steve Holland
BEIJING (Reuters) – With lavish pageantry and an uncharacteristic personal flourish, Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday rolled out a red carpet welcome for U.S President Donald Trump at the Forbidden City, the ancient home of China’s emperors.
While North Korea and trade are set to dominate the formal part of the visit, which ends on Friday, China has been keen to show the importance it puts on Trump’s visit, the first by a foreign leader since the end of a key Communist Party congress last month where Xi cemented his power.
Trump and his wife Melania were whisked from Beijing airport – where they were met by China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi, a key player in the outreach to Trump since he won election a year ago – straight to the Forbidden City.
Chatting over cups of tea, Trump showed Xi a video of his granddaughter Arabella Kushner singing in Mandarin and reciting classical Chinese poetry, prompting Xi to compliment her performance as worthy of an “A+”, Chinese state media said.
Xi said he hoped Arabella would visit China soon, noting that she was already a “child star” in China, the official Xinhua news agency said.
A video of Arabella reciting a Chinese poem went viral on Chinese social media shortly after Trump’s election last year.
In another break from precedent, Xi himself gave the Trumps a tour of the imperial treasures of the Forbidden City, a UNESCO World Heritage site cleared of tourists for the day, before the two first couples watched Chinese opera and an acrobatic display.
“That’s something!” Trump said after the show, as he and Xi walked away. “We’re having a great time.”
China had widely been expected to pull out all the stops for Trump, who has pressed it to do more to control its neighbor North Korea, and resolve a yawning trade gap with the United States.
The ceremony on Trump’s arrival at Beijing’s airport on Wednesday was also more elaborate than usual, with the Trumps met by a marching band and soldiers standing at attention. Smartly dressed children waving miniature Chinese and American flags jumped up and down as Trump’s motorcade passed.
In another rare, if not unprecedented step, Trump’s official ceremonial welcome at the Great Hall of the People on Thursday will be broadcast live on national television, state broadcaster CCTV said.
While the sprawling palace complex in the centre of Beijing is a regular stop for visiting dignitaries, it is rare for a Chinese leader to provide a personal escort, confirmation of the “state visit-plus” treatment that China had promised for Trump.
(Reporting by Philip Wen and Steve Holland; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)