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Donald Trump, Xi Jinping and the Mao factor

Beijing (CNN)When US President Donald Trump greets his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, in person for the first time in Florida this week, the two men may find an unlikely historical figure looming large as they attempt to rebalance the world’s most important bilateral relationship.

On the surface, and politics aside, Xi and Trump appear a world apart.
A real estate mogul turned reality television star before winning the White House race in a major upset, Trump relishes the spotlight and combats his political enemies — including the news media — through bouts of insulting tweets shared with his millions of Twitter followers.
    Xi is Communist royalty thanks to his father’s stature as a comrade-in-arms of Mao Zedong, whose ironclad reign over the People’s Republic lasted for nearly three decades until his death.
    The Chinese president rarely strays from jargon-filled scripts and has no presence on any global social media platforms, many of which — including Twitter — are blocked in China by his internet censors.
    Yet, in an ironic twist, some observers say Trump, the world’s ultimate capitalist leader, seems to have adopted the kind of populist language or even tactics that were once hallmarks of Chairman Mao, Communist China’s founding father whose ideology many say Xi has been increasingly embracing.
    “Trump and Mao have a very similar anti-establishment and also anti-intellectual tendency,” said Orville Schell, a leading US scholar on China who has been visiting the country since the Mao era and now heads the Center on US-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York.
    “They have the same kind of concepts like ‘overturning society,’ the same kind of idea of ‘you can’t have construction without destruction.'”
    Both men also view politics as something extremely personal, yearning to be respected while having little idea how to act respectfully, Schell added.
    “I think Trump, like Mao, has a kind of very visceral antipathy or antagonism toward people who don’t agree with him or cannot be bullied,” he said.
    “He’s very much in the Maoist tradition, bypassing educated people, the media, artists and, in many ways, even bypassing science, resisting any kind of restraint on him.”
    Both He and Schell see a silver lining in Trump’s “Maoist” mentality when it comes to recalibrating US-China relations, which have been strained by China’s stubborn trade surplus over the US and Beijing’s increasingly assertive military stance in territorial disputes with American allies in Asia.
    For too long, they argue, the Communist leadership in Beijing has been taking advantage of successive administrations in Washington — benefiting from an open global trade system advocated by the US, and then using its rising economic might to reinforce an authoritarian political system at home and fund its strategic expansion abroad — all at the expense of American interests.
    “Such an imbalanced relationship is simply terrible,” said He. “Trump may be …illogical or clueless about politics, but he knows that things have to change — and the only way to do so is through unconventional means.”
    “As he turns the world upside down, China must feel nervous.”

    Hands off

    Despite Trump’s fiery attacks on the campaign trail — accusing China of “raping” the US economy and stealing millions of American jobs, among other things — his administration has taken a relatively hands-off approach in dealing with Beijing so far.

    Golf diplomacy won’t cut it with Xi

    Opinion: China won’t buy Trump’s bluster

    Trump’s key diplomatic week

    Tough talk meets hard reality

    Trump has not followed through on campaign promises to label China a “currency manipulator” on day one of his presidency or to impose steep tariffs on all Chinese imports.
    After initially questioning it, he has since endorsed the so-called “one China” policy, which for decades has governed delicate relations between the United States, China and Taiwan — a self-ruling island that Beijing regards as a rebel province that must be reunited with the Chinese mainland, by force if necessary.
    One of the few areas that Trump still keeps poking China on seems to be Beijing’s inability or unwillingness to rein in its unruly neighbor North Korea, as the Pyongyang regime continues to defy UN Security Council bans with its missile launches and possibly a new nuclear weapon test.
    Xi has compelling reasons to work with Trump, as the Chinese leader prepares to start his second five-year term as the head of the ruling Communist Party in the fall.
    As he focuses on further consolidating power, Xi may find external distractions like a flare-up in US-China relations undesirable as he, like Trump, tries to address myriad domestic challenges. In Xi’s case, these range from a slowing economy and widening income gap, to persistent political corruption despite his crackdown.
    “All of Trump’s contradictory rhetoric has put China somewhat off balance and that’s not a bad thing,” Schell said.
    “If he plays his cards right, if (US Secretary of State Rex) Tillerson and (US Secretary of Defense James) Mattis play their cards right, they could restore some sort of balance to the relationship — and make it more stable and more functional.”

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    ‘Troubled individual:’ Mother Teresa no saint to her critics

    (CNN)When Pope Francis canonizes the late Mother Teresa at the Vatican on September 4th,she will officially be recognized as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church.

    For her followers, the title is a mere formality. They believe the world renowned humanitarian displayed saintly qualities throughout a life dedicated to serving the poor.
      But saintly is not a word everyone uses for Mother Teresa.Her critics say she was anything but.

      ‘Scene from World War 2’

      Disillusioned former volunteer Hemley Gonzalez didn’t meet her in person, but what he calls the “horrific remnants of her legacy” have left him deeply uncomfortable. After visiting the facilities she’s responsible for starting, he feels only a “troubled individual” could have set them up.

      After the financial crisis of 2008, Gonzalez took a break from his real estate business in Miami and headed to India, where he spent two months volunteering at Nirmal Hriday, a home for the dying run by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta’s (now Kolkata) crowded Kalighat area.
      Gonzalez says he was appalled at the poor level of hygiene and medical care he saw there. He says the organization didn’t vet him or the other volunteers. None, including himself, had any medical experience or received any training before working at the hospice.
      He claims he saw nuns routinely reuse needles after washing them in tap water, that clothes — sometimes soiled with urine and feces — and cooking utensils were hand washed side by side in the same room.
      Patients suffering from respiratory diseases had to bathe in freezing water because a single water heater wasn’t barely enough for one bath, he says. And he claims there was not a single doctor or medically trained nurse at the hospice.
      “It was a scene out of a World War II concentration camp,” says Gonzalez.
      Gonzalez says attempts to raise a red flag or offer to install a water heater were always met with the same response by the nuns. “We don’t do that here. This is the way Jesus wants it,they’d say,”Gonzalez tells us.

      Basic care for poorest of poor

      Chhanda Chakraborti is part of a group of local Kolkata volunteers who has been associated with the Missionaries of Charity for over 25 years.She served at Nirmal Hriday for several years before Gonzalez did.

      Museum of poverty, or place of service?

      As these controversies rage on, life inside Mother Teresa’s homes carries on as usual, with the same simplicity and routine that’s been in place for decades.
      According to Gonzalez, it’s a “museum of poverty.” To some, it’s a place of selfless service.
      A group of nuns will travel to the Vatican for the canonization ceremony in September, and those who remain in Kolkata will mark the day with prayers of thanks.
      For them and other devout followers around the world, Mother Teresa was and will forever be, a saint, and no amount of controversy can change that.

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