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Trump Lands In China, North Korea To Be A Main Discussion Topic

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: It is commonplace to refer to the president of the United States - any American president - as the most powerful person in the world. Today President Trump is in Beijing meeting China's president, Xi Jinping, who made the cover of The Economist magazine a few weeks ago, and he was described as the most powerful person in the world.

President Trump is seeking China's cooperation in a visit that is the centerpiece of a journey through East Asia. Trump wants help with North Korea and on trade. NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president. He joins us now. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what's the welcome been like for President Trump?

HORSLEY: It's been elaborate, Steve. The Chinese are calling this a state visit plus. President Trump and the first lady were taken on a tour of the Forbidden City, treated to a performance at the Peking Opera. Tonight, they're having dinner with President Xi and his wife.

We've seen this on other stops along this trip, as well. Many foreign leaders have decided the way to win favor from President Trump is to play to his ego, to pull out all the stops with welcoming ceremony. In fact, there's been almost a competition among the president's Asian hosts to see who can stage the most elaborate welcome. Of course, ceremony is one of many areas where China is a superpower.

INSKEEP: They have the backdrop of China and the Forbidden City to do it with. But when they get down to talking, there are some tough issues here, Scott. What does the president hope to accomplish?

HORSLEY: Well, absolutely. North Korea is high on that list. China is North Korea's number one trading partner. And the administration wants Xi to use his economic leverage there to put pressure on Kim Jong Un and put the brakes on that nuclear program.

The White House says China has done some of that - suspending coal purchases from North Korea, for example, and directing Chinese banks not to do business with Pyongyang. But Trump says China and other countries must do more to stop the nuclear adventures of North Korea. And he stressed that point when he spoke earlier today to the South Korean national assembly in Seoul.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The world cannot tolerate the menace of a rogue regime that threatens with nuclear devastation. All responsible nations must join forces to isolate the brutal regime of North Korea.

HORSLEY: Trump tried to underscore that get tough message with a surprise visit to the demilitarized zone that divides North and South Korea. The president and his entourage took off in helicopters this morning. But they were prevented from landing at the DMZ by heavy fog.

INSKEEP: OK. So that's the national security or even global security part of this. But then there's trade. What is the president hoping to get out of China there?

HORSLEY: Yeah. The president often complains about the big U.S. trade deficit with China. And his administration has catalogued a long list of what they see as unfair trading practices by Beijing. But despite that tough talk, Trump has not really taken any strong retaliatory action so far in his administration. If he tries to lecture China during this trip, some analysts expect the government here will just nod along politely and then keep doing what they've been doing all along.

INSKEEP: Scott, I have to ask you about something rather awkward that has taken place in the last number of hours. Here in China, we have reports that three members of the UCLA men's basketball team - they were here to play a game against another college team. Three members had been detained - is apparently the word we should use - in Hangzhou, China, yesterday. It is reported that the offense may have been shoplifting. We don't have a lot of details confirmed. But what can happen to a presidential trip when there's a distraction like this right at the beginning?

HORSLEY: Well, I think you said it, Steve. This is awkward. This is a distraction. So far, there has been no comment from the White House. I think it's in everyone's interest not to let this incident overshadow the very important business that these two leaders have to conduct.

INSKEEP: NPR's Scott Horsley will be covering that business. He's in Beijing traveling with President Trump. Scott, thanks very much.

HORSLEY: You're welcome, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.