China hates golf, so why play nice about it for Trump?
IT WAS "ping pong diplomacy" which brought China and the US closer together 45 years ago, and now another ball game will figure in their relationship.
It's something like the Pope agreeing to a conclave in a strip club, but this week Chinese President Xi Jinping will bunker down with US President Donald Trump at a golf club.
President Xi doesn't play golf - he's a soccer man - and golf clubs are still considered by Beijing as citadels of capitalist excess and corruption.
By some standards, Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, is a tacky citadel, marking a division between rich, middle aged America and the struggling, younger middle class.
But will we see the Chinese leader swing a club as part of his effort to get closer to Mr Trump, a president who has baffled the Chinese? Will he attempt to charm The Donald by giving him mulligans and golf clapping his drives?
A further baffling element of this summit location is that President Xi chose it. He wanted to have his first chat with President Trump at Mar-a-Lago - against the advice of some senior colleagues.
One explanation on offer is he wanted to go one better than Shinzo Abe. The Japanese Prime Minister had his two days of talks in the White House in February.
President Xi wanted, says the theory, to stay in the President's home like a close friend, not visit his office like a mere item of business on the presidential diary.
China believes Japan is sulking because it has lost its ranking as the globe's No. 2 economy behind the US, and is likely to rub it in whenever possible.
A separate theory, not entirely unrelated, is President Xi wants to be a guest bearing gifts, and not just the usual kitsch leaders exchange.
This gift might be a tariff reduction in an appropriate trade area where the US feels badly done by. It might be in vehicle imports.
The intention could be to give Mr Trump an early victory to boast about.
But back to the big question: Will President Xi put diplomacy on the putting green?
In the 1970s the Chinese used visits to the US by table tennis teams to open up to the West and America in particular.
This ping pong diplomacy was a great success, introducing China to the world in a sport it excelled at.
However, golf is not a Chinese strength, and the government of President Xi has closed golf courses over the past five years, sending a clear message to the general population and ambitious Communist Party members.
If President Xi took to the Trump fairways he could land in the rough back home.
He had just launched a ruthless campaign against official corruption, and that leaves no room for government chiefs being seen on he links.
And golf was among the remnants of the old regime which Communist China banned in 1949.
It's a measure of Trump power that President Xi is flying into the playground of the enemy, hoping to achieve a victory at the 19th hole.