BEIJING / AP
China praised US President Donald Trump on Thursday for expressing a desire for a “constructive relationship” in a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping, even though the leaders have not spoken directly since Trump’s inauguration.
Trump sent belated well-wishes for the Lunar New Year in a letter from the White House on Wednesday.
He had been the only US president in recent years not to have issued greetings to the world’s most populous nation on its most important holiday, which fell this year on Jan. 28. The silence triggered speculation in China as to whether it was an oversight or an intentional slight.
A statement from the White House late Wednesday said Trump wrote to Xi that he looked forward to “develop a constructive relationship that benefits both the United States and China.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China “highly commended” Trump for the letter to Xi wishing the Chinese people greetings for the new year and the Lantern Festival that falls on Saturday. Lu dismissed suggestions that Beijing took offense in the timing.
“It is known to all that since President Trump took office, China and the US have been in close contact,” Lu said.
Speculation has simmered in China about how Trump might back up his tough talk, with observers noting that since his Jan. 20 inauguration, Trump has spoken to more than a dozen foreign leaders but not Xi.
Trump has accused Beijing of unfair trade practices and a deliberately undervalued currency, criticized China’s military buildup in the South China Sea and accused Beijing of doing too little to pressure neighbor North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs.
He also upended four decades of diplomatic protocol by speaking by phone with Tsai Ing-wen, the president of Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory.