PALM BEACH, Fla., April 7 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he had made progress in talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and expected them to overcome many problems, a marked contrast to the stridently anti-China rhetoric of Trump's 2016 election campaign.
Sitting across from Xi on the second day of a Florida summit overshadowed by U.S. missile strikes in Syria overnight, Trump declared that his relationship with the Chinese leader was outstanding after they discussed trade irritants and concerns about North Korea's nuclear program.
Trump had said he intended to raise concerns about China's trade practices and press Xi to do more to rein in North Korea's nuclear ambitions during his visit to the Spanish-style Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, though no major deals on either issue are expected.
The Republican president, who took office on Jan. 20, tweeted last week that the United States could no longer tolerate massive trade deficits and job losses and that his meeting with Xi "will be a very difficult one."
On Friday, there was a change of tone.
"We have made tremendous progress in our relationship with China," Trump said as the two delegations met around tables flanked by large U.S. and Chinese flags. "I think truly progress has been made. We will be making additional progress. The relationship developed by President Xi and myself I think is outstanding."
"And I believe lots of very potentially bad problems will be going away," he added.
Chinese President Xi Jinping
Chinese President Xi Jinping
U.S. President Donald Trump welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago state in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Chinese President Xi Jinping addresses the media during an official visit in Bern, Switzerland January 16, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands during their meeting ahead of the G20 Summit at the West Lake State Guest House in Hangzhou, China, September 3, 2016. REUTERS/How Hwee Young/Pool
China's President Xi Jinping attends the signing ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland April 5, 2017. Lehtikuva/Vesa Moilanen/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. FINLAND OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN FINLAND.
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump welcome Chinese President Xi Jinping and Madame Peng Liyuan for dinner at the start of their summit at Trump?s Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S. April 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson before their meeting at at the Great Hall of the People on March 19, 2017 in Beijing, China. REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY *** Local Caption *** Xi Jinping;Rex Tillerson
HELSINKI, April 5, 2017 : Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) meets with Speaker of the Finnish Parliament Maria Lohela in Helsinki, Finland, April 5, 2017. (Xinhua/Rao Aimin via Getty Images)
China's President Xi Jinping meets Serbia's President Tomislav Nikolic at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
China's President Xi Jinping claps during the opening session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, March 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee
Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with Madagascar President Hery Rajaonarimampianina (L) during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People on March 27, 2017 in Beijing, China. REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool *** Local Caption *** Xi Jinping;Hery Rajaonarimampianina
China's President Xi Jinping and China's Premier Li Keqiang arrive for the opening session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, March 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee
Chinese President Xi Jinping and International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach look at the Beijing 2008 medals during a visit at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) and Swiss President Doris Leuthard (C) arrive at the seat of the Swiss federal parliament Bundeshaus in Bern, Switzerland January 15, 2017. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
Chile's President Michelle Bachelet and China's President Xi Jinping listen to their national anthems during a meeting at the government house in Santiago, Chile, November 22, 2016. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado
Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with Gabon's President Ali Bongo Ondimba after Gabonese and Chinese delegates signed economic contracts at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China December 7, 2016. REUTERS/Fred Dufour/Pool
China's President Xi Jinping (L) and Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski pose for photographers during the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Summit in Lima, Peru, November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo
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The highly anticipated U.S.-China summit has been upstaged, however, by U.S. missile strikes overnight against a Syrian air base from which Trump said a deadly chemical weapon attack had been launched. It was the first direct U.S. assault on the Russian-backed government of Bashar al-Assad in six years of civil war.
The swift action in Syria could be interpreted as a signal especially to defiant nuclear-armed North Korea – and by extension, its ally China – as well as other countries like Iran and Russia of Trump's willingness to use military force if deemed necessary.
U.S. security concerns with China also focus on Beijing's expansive territorial claims in the strategic South China Sea.
A senior administration official said Trump informed Xi about the strikes as their dinner concluded on Thursday night. Trump then made a televised statement on the operation he said he ordered in retaliation for the poison gas attack, which killed scores of people, including children, in a rebel-held area on Tuesday.
In Beijing, China's Foreign Ministry urged all parties in Syria to find a political settlement.
Trump and Xi, politicians with distinctly different styles and experience levels, appeared cordial and businesslike in their initial interactions, with no outward sign of tensions.
The protocol-conscious Chinese earlier had privately expressed concerns that the unpredictable Trump might publicly embarrass the veteran Communist Party chief. (Writing by Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Howard Goller)