UPDATE: Tough issues await President Trump, President Xi behind closed doors

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BEIJING (AP) — 4 a.m. Thursday

Cutout Photo: DoD / CC BY 2.0

President Donald Trump's visit to China has opened with diplomatic niceties aplenty from Chinese President Xi Jinping (shee jihn-peeng), but thorny issues await the two world leaders behind closed doors.

Among them are potential tensions over trade and China's willingness to put the squeeze on North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.

Before his arrival, Trump issued a stern message to Beijing, using an address to the National Assembly in South Korea to call on nations to confront the North.

White House officials said Trump would make the same pitch to Xi in private when the two sit down together Thursday.

China is North Korea's largest trading partner and Trump is expected to demand that the nation curtail its dealings with Pyongyang and expel North Korean workers from its borders.

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11:05 p.m.

President Donald Trump says his welcome to Beijing was "unforgettable."

Trump thanked Chinese President Xi Jinping on Twitter on Wednesday. He said: "THANK YOU for an unforgettable afternoon and evening at the Forbidden City in Beijing." Trump added: "We are looking forward to rejoining you tomorrow morning!"

Trump is on a two-day visit to China. He hopes to press the rising Asian power on trade and North Korea.

The ceremony accompanying the U.S. president's arrival Wednesday afternoon was elaborate even by China's lavish standards. Trump and his wife, Melania, were met by Chinese and American dignitaries, soldiers, a band playing martial music and children waving miniature Chinese and American flags.

6:20 a.m.

President Donald Trump's granddaughter Arabella Kushner has once again played a bridging role in U.S.-China diplomacy.

China's official Xinhua News Agency reported that Trump played a video of Arabella reciting ancient Chinese poetry and verses from the Confucian text the "Three Character Classic" to Chinese President Xi Jinping after they met at the Forbidden City ancient palace complex in Beijing on Wednesday.

Xi responded that Arabella's Chinese deserved an "A-plus."

Earlier this year, a brief video clip of Arabella singing in Chinese circulated to strong approval on the internet in China. The clip posted by Trump's daughter Ivanka showed then 5-year-old Arabella singing best wishes for the holiday while playing with a traditional Chinese puppet.

Ivanka Trump and daughter Arabella also made a surprise visit to the Chinese Embassy in Washington in February to participate in Chinese New Year festivities.

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5:35 p.m.

President Donald Trump says he's having a "great time" in China.

Trump commented after he and first lady Melania Trump took in a music-and-dance performance Wednesday in the Forbidden City by young opera students dressed in ornate traditional Chinese costumes.

They were joined by their hosts, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife, Peng Liyuan. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Terry Branstad, the U.S. ambassador to China, are among U.S. officials taking in the performance.

The show is part of an elaborate welcome Xi has planned for Trump that will extend into Thursday.

After the show, the youngsters shouted "Welcome to China! I love you."

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4:30 p.m.

China is pulling out all the stops for Donald Trump's airport arrival in Beijing.

The ceremony accompanying the U.S. president's arrival Wednesday afternoon was elaborate even by China's lavish standards.

Trump and his wife, Melania, were met by Chinese and American dignitaries, soldiers, a band playing martial music and children waving miniature Chinese and American flags.

As Trump's motorcade pulled away, the children jumped up and down while they waved and chanted.

The U.S. president and first lady appeared pleased, smiling and accepting flower bouquets, with Trump at one point throwing his arms open and appearing to exclaim, "Wow."

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4:15 p.m.

President Donald Trump is touring the sprawling Forbidden City compound in the heart of Beijing.

The 15th century compound was the imperial palace for several dynasties. Access was forbidden to all but the imperial family and those who had business with them.

Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping and their wives walked through the Gate of Supreme Harmony and gazed across a sprawling yet deserted courtyard. They all wore overcoats against the chill. After a guide explained the sites, the couples walked down a flight of stairs and into the courtyard.

They posed for photos, strolled toward the Palace of Supreme Peace and climbed another long flight of stairs.

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Welcomed to China with an outsized dose of pomp and pageantry, President Donald Trump pronounced himself wowed by Beijing's lavish greeting Wednesday at the start of a two-day visit in which he aims to employ flattery, scolding and cajolery to press the rising Asian power on trade and North Korea.

Trump, saddled with consistently low approval ratings at home, is dueling with a newly emboldened Chinese President Xi Jinping, who recently consolidated power. The American president's every utterance will be studied by allies anxious to see if his inward-looking "America First" mantra could cede power in the region to China.

A visit sure to include tough negotiations on multiple policy fronts began a full-on display of diplomatic niceties: The president and first lady Melania Trump were greeted at the airport by dozens of children who waved U.S. and Chinese flags and jumped up and down. The couple sipped tea with Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, received a private tour of the historic Forbidden City, Beijing's ancient imperial palace, including a performance by young opera students before dinner.

Trump said afterward that he's "having a great time" in China and at one point threw open his arms and appeared to exclaim "wow."

Before arriving in Beijing on Wednesday, Trump used an address to the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, to deliver a stern message to China, North Korea's biggest trade partner. Trump urged "responsible nations" to unite and stop supporting North Korea.

"You cannot support, you cannot supply, you cannot accept," he said, calling on "every nation, including China and Russia," to fully implement recent U.N. Security Council resolutions on North Korea.

Trump is expected to demand that China curtail its dealings with Pyongyang and expel North Korean workers. Trump has praised China for taking some steps against Pyongyang but urged them to do more, as administration officials believe the border between China and North Korea remains a trade corridor.

"I want to just say that President Xi — where we will be tomorrow, China — has been very helpful. We'll find out how helpful soon," Trump said Tuesday night in Seoul. "But he really has been very, very helpful. So China is out trying very hard to solve the problem with North Korea."
The White House is banking on Trump's personal rapport with Xi to drive the negotiations. Trump has frequently showered praise on Xi, who recently became the nation's most powerful leader in decades, including with a trip to Trump's Florida estate for a summit.

"He's a powerful man. I happen to think he's a very good person. Now with that being said, he represents China, I represent the U.S.A., so, you know, there's going to always be conflict," Trump recently told the Fox Business Network. "People say we have the best relationship of any president-president, because he's called president also. Now some people might call him the king of China. But he's called president."

White House officials point to the Trump-Xi summit in Florida this spring, an event partly defined by Trump telling his Chinese counterpart about the missile strike he ordered on Syria while the two men dined on chocolate cake. But experts in the region suggest that Xi may have the advantage over Trump.

"Trump keeps portraying his relationship with XI as great pals but that's wildly naive," said Mike Chinoy, an expert on East Asia policy at the U.S.-China Institute at the University of Southern California. "The Chinese have figured out how to play Trump: flatter him. And there's nothing the Chinese do better than wow foreign diplomats."

Trump talked tough during his campaign about fixing American's trade relationship with China and labeling it a "currency manipulator." But he has signaled that he would take it easy on Beijing if it will help with the nuclear threat from North Korea.

"Trump has mortgaged the whole U.S.-China relationship to get the Chinese on board with the North Korea plan," Chinoy said. "He is now coming at it from a position of weakness."

White House officials have said that if Trump were to chide Xi about human rights or democratic reforms, he would likely do it privately. Andrew Nathan, a political science professor and China expert at Columbia University, said Trump's "infatuation" with Xi was reminiscent of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's fascination with Zhou Enlai, the first Premier of the People's Republic of China.

"For Trump, Xi is wish fulfillment: 'I wish I could be as powerful as that guy!'" Nathan said.

One uncertainty for Trump: whether he will be able to use Twitter in China, which has banned the social media platform. Though the United States could enable it to work, the White House declined to comment on whether Trump would tweet from China.

Trump arrived in Beijing after two days in Seoul, where he largely avoided the inflammatory rhetoric that has defined his approach to Pyongyang. But he also warned North Korea in his speech to "not underestimate us. And do not try us."

He also sounded an optimistic note while in South Korea, saying confidently, if vaguely, that "ultimately, it'll all work out" while shifting views and expressing hope that diplomacy could resolve the tensions. Trump also underlined U.S. military options, noting that three aircraft carrier groups and a nuclear submarine had been deployed to the region.
But he said "we hope to God we never have to use" the arsenal.

One hoped-for message to Pyongyang went unsent. Though the White House had previously indicated that Trump would not visit the heavily fortified demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea, plans had been in the works for him to make an unannounced visit Wednesday morning.

Trump boarded the Marine One helicopter and flew to within five minutes of the DMZ but U.S. military pilots and Secret Service agents determined the fog was too thick to safely land. The helicopter returned to Seoul and Trump waited nearly an hour for the weather to clear.
The fog did not lift in time.
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Associated Press writers Darlene Superville and Ken Thomas in Washington contributed to this report.
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