King Xi. That’s what U.S. President Donald Trump says he called Chinese leader Xi Jinping during the American president’s 2017 state visit to Beijing.
Trump, speaking Tuesday at the National Republican Congressional Committee spring dinner in Washington, said the Chinese president had denied he was a king, but the U.S. leader was insistent.
“He said, ‘But I am not king, I am president.’ I said ‘No, you’re president for life, and therefore you’re king,'” Trump told the audience, prompting laughter.
“He said, huh. He liked that. I get along with him great.”
Trump’s November 2017 visit to China came just months before the country’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress, removed the two-term limit on the Chinese presidency in March the following year, effectively cementing Xi’s already iron grip on power and clearing the way for him to serve as president for life.
Prior to eliminating term limits, Xi embarked on a still-running crackdown on corruption that at the same time removed virtually all of his potential rivals and other threats to his authority within the ruling Communist Party.
Trump is known to tout his close relationships with powerful leaders and dictators, including Xi, who he has talked about in the sort of warm terms U.S. presidents normally reserve for long-standing allies.
However, his proclamations of strong ties with Xi have in recent months been overshadowed by trade and military tensions between Washington and Beijing.
Early last year, Trump began imposing tariffs on billions of dollars’ worth of Chinese exports to narrow the trade deficit, sparking a trade war. The U.S. leader’s administration has also sparred with Xi’s regime over the disputed South China Sea, where China has built up a series of militarized islands.