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Trump’s conduit to China: if not Javanka, who?

The New York Times reports this week that Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, White House advisor Jared Kushner, won’t be visiting China this month after all. Alack and alas. If you believe this story in The Guardian, all of China is in mourning.

Beijing had worked hard to cultivate “Javanka,” who had seemed at first to be the perfect conduit to the president. Ivanka initiated the special relationship with a surprise appearance at the Chinese embassy’s Lunar New Year Party in February. Kushner was instrumental in brokering the first meeting between Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping at Trump’s resort in Mar-a-Lago, Florida last April. During that visit, their daughter Arabella charmed the Chinese delegation by singing in Mandarin. And it must have been reassuring to China’s leadership to know that Kushner’s family business is heavily indebted to Chinese investors and has actively courted new investors there to stay afloat.

The White House insists that there has been no cancellation of a visit to China by Jared and Ivanka because no visit was formally scheduled in the first place. Even so, the couple was invited and widely expected to visit. Now they won’t.

It’s not clear why Javanka’s China trip is off. Some speculate it’s to avoid drawing attention to the Kushner family’s dealings there. Others say it shows Beijing has lost interest in the first daughter and her husband because their influence has waned since the appointment of Trump’s new chief of staff John Kelly. Many argue Trump himself spiked the trip to signal his displeasure with Beijing.

Whatever the reason, confirmation Jared and Ivanka aren’t heading to China hands wondering who now is the Trump administration’s point person for the Middle Kingdom. The Times notes that, at various junctures, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, national economic advisor Gary Cohn, and national security adviser Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster have all staked claims to playing the coordinating role on China. All have eventually run afoul of their boss, who alternates between lavishing praise on Xi one day and threatening China with ruinous trade sanctions the next.

Whether Trump himself will visit China this year remains a mystery. The Chinese have invited him. At Mar-a-Lago, Tillerson said Trump would make a state visit sometime in 2017. But the White House has offered no further details.

In the meantime, Trump’s China fans will have to console themselves with a visit to Hong Kong by ousted White House adviser Steve Bannon, who will share his views on the U.S.-China economic relationship at a conference here September 12. Bannon was sacked shortly after telling the editor of The American Prospect, a left-wing political journal, that the U.S. was locked in a zero-sum economic war with China. He’ll expand on that thesis at the invitation of CLSA, a Hong Kong-based equities brokerage that was founded by a group of former British journalists and is now owned by Citic Securities, one of China’s largest state-controlled conglomerates. A Bannon spokesman said he was unsure whether Bannon is accepting a fee from the Chinese company for his remarks.

Enjoy the weekend!

Clay Chandler
@claychandler
clay.chandler@timeinc.com