Against Mr. Trump’s impulsiveness and his espousal of an America First agenda of isolationism and protectionism, Mr. Xi projects a steady hand as he tries to remake the global economic and political order and entice nations into Beijing’s orbit.
Chinese trade is undeniably a big draw for many countries. So is Mr. Xi’s promised, though perhaps quixotic, $1 trillion investment in his One Belt, One Road initiative, an ambitious network of trading routes and development projects — roads, ports, pipelines and the like from China to Africa and Europe — that seems also to have drawn Mr. Bannon’s admiration. Having long operated quietly in Russia’s shadow at the United Nations, the Chinese are also speaking out more forcefully and engaging more robustly across multiple regions, a trend that has accelerated under Mr. Trump.
Meanwhile, Mr. Trump, unlike his predecessor, Barack Obama, who worked to expand American influence in Asia, has ceded significant ground to China, especially by withdrawing from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership and thus allowing Beijing an opening to set trade rules in the region. The American president will share the world stage with Mr. Xi for the first time this week when both men address the annual United Nations General Assembly.
Can there be robust cooperation? In 2005, when President George W. Bush was in office, Robert Zoellick, then a deputy secretary of state, encouraged China to become a “responsible stakeholder” and help strengthen the Western-designed postwar international system from which it benefited. Yet today more officials and experts are putting China in the adversary category, or leaning toward doing so, not least because of Beijing’s decision to expand its military capability and project it further into the South China Sea.
Still, to anyone who steps back from the immediate conflicts over territory and trade, there is no alternative to cooperation on major challenges, even if interests aren’t always aligned. Mr. Trump is supposed to make his first presidential trip to Beijing in November, and Mr. Xi will certainly want to demonstrate that he can work with and manage the mercurial American president. The meeting is a natural forcing mechanism for getting some things done.
Here’s one thing that is not much talked about: counterterrorism. Mr. Trump worries about the Islamic State, Mr. Xi about Muslim Uighurs in China’s northwestern region of…