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Xi casts China as co-superpower to woo Trump
[BEIJING] Chinese leaders have long sought to present themselves as equals to American presidents. President Xi Jinping has wanted something more: a special relationship that sets China apart, as the other great power in an emerging bipolar world.
The Obama administration declined to play along, worried that it implied an American retreat from Asia. But Mr Xi, the most powerful Chinese leader in decades, may find a more willing partner in President Donald Trump, who is travelling to Beijing this week after stops in Japan and South Korea.
Mr Trump has often cast China as an unfair trade rival, and, after arriving in Japan on Sunday, he vowed to build a "free and open Indo-Pacific", a phrase designed to emphasise America's democratic allies in the region as a balance against China's rise.
But Mr Trump has also spoken of China in almost reverential terms and elevated Beijing as a critical player to resolving the North Korean nuclear standoff. And there are signs of mutual admiration between the two leaders, both of whom see themselves as destined to restore their nations to greatness.
"The outcome of this clash of national ambitions will be one of the great, perhaps perilous stories of the next several decades," said David Lampton, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Mr Trump piled on the flattery last month, congratulating Mr Xi after he was anointed to a second term as Communist Party leader.
"Now some people might call him the king," Mr Trump told Lou Dobbs on Fox Business Network. "I happen to think he's a very good person."
China plans to return the favour when Mr Trump arrives on Wednesday for what the Chinese Foreign Ministry says is his first visit to Beijing. The Chinese are calling it "a state visit-plus", promising grand pageantry in the Great Hall of the People and the ancient roofed pavilions of the Forbidden City.
The pomp will be a chance for Mr Xi to showcase his "China Dream" - a vision of his nation joining or perhaps supplanting the United States as a superpower leading the world.
Mr Xi is expected to propose some version of what he has called a "new type of great power relations", the idea that China and the US should share global leadership as equals and break a historical pattern of conflict between rising and established powers.