Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping arrived in Florida Thursday for a first face-to-face summit, eyeing a basket full of "tweetable" deals to help avoid a public clash. Xi touched down at Palm Beach airport, where he received red carpet treatment and a military honour guard that offered no hint of the tensions that permeate this high-stakes superpower pow-wow.
Trump arrived a little later and headed to his Mar-a-Lago resort - dubbed the "Winter White House" - where he will host Xi for what promises to be a masterclass in studied informality. The agenda for the 24 hour summit has purposely been left open, allowing the leaders to freewheel and build a rapport. Thursday's main event is a joint dinner.
Matt Pottinger, a top White House Asia expert who was tasked with planning the summit, promised a "relaxed interaction" despite a backdrop of tensions over trade and North Korea. "Spouses will be there" said Pottinger, indicating the leaders will be joined Thursday evening by US first lady and former model Melania Trump and Peng Liyuan - a celebrated folk singer who was once more famous than her husband.
The group will "have an opportunity to have tea together, meet some of their senior cabinet officials, so to speak, on both sides, and have a dinner," Pottinger added. Talks will continue up to a working lunch on Friday. Amid concerns about security and public perceptions, officials said Xi and his wife will not be staying at Mar-a-Lago, but at a resort and spa a short drive down the palm-fringed coast that is, for now, watched by snipers, tactical units and a coastguard cutter. The carefully choreographed dinners and displays of bonhomie mask an almost palpable anxiety about how the meeting will go.
Peace offerings No one - neither diplomats nor aides - can be sure what will happen when the most powerful Chinese leader in a generation meets a mercurial American president who has been in office less than 100 days and is capable of unraveling the most carefully-laid plans with a single 140-character tweet.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2017