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For China's Xi, a vexing question: Can Trump be trusted?

BEIJING — Donald Trump regularly touts the strength of his personal relationship with Xi Jinping, talking about the Chinese leader in the sort of warm terms U.S. presidents normally reserve for longstanding allies.

Yet as the world’s two largest economies inch toward a trade agreement designed to define and reorder their economic relationship for years to come, one question looms large: Does Xi trust Trump enough to get on a plane and seal the deal?

Trump and his aides have for weeks been pushing for Xi to agree to a meeting at Mar-a-Lago, the president’s club and resort in Palm Beach, Fla., to finalize a deal as soon as this month to end a dispute that has cast a shadow over the global economy. Trump himself has said that it’s only when the two leaders meet that the final details can be ironed out.

Chinese officials, however, have long been wary of putting Xi in a position where he might be embarrassed by an unpredictable Trump or forced into last-minute concessions.

“That is the real conundrum for Xi,” said Eswar Prasad, an expert on the Chinese economy at Cornell University who regularly meets with senior officials in Beijing. “The concern about being snookered by Trump at the negotiating table is a real risk for Xi.”

China’s worries are flipping the U.S. script on its head. As he claims to be the first American president to stand up to Beijing, his aides have built a possible deal on a foundation of distrust. In their view, a China that has for decades lied and cheated its way to economic success cannot be trusted to live up to any commitments unless a deal has teeth.

“That’s the fundamental question,” Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative, told Congress on Feb. 27. “What the president wants is an agreement that No. 1 is enforceable.”

Officials in Beijing insist they’ve played by international rules and just want to be sure Trump won’t again kill an agreement at the last minute. Trump has rejected at least two deals brought to him since he first hosted Xi at Mar-a-Lago in April 2017: One struck by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for China to cut steel overcapacity, and another negotiated by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin last year.

The latter one was particularly jarring for Xi, who faces pressure in China to avoid giving up too much in a deal with Trump. Vice Premier Liu He came to Washington as Xi’s special representative, and declared to China’s state-run media that a trade war had been averted. After Trump backtracked, talks stalled for months until the two leaders met in December at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina.

Last month, Trump’s decision to walk away from his Hanoi, Vietnam, summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un without a deal only reinforced China’s concerns about the president’s unpredictability.

Former Commerce Vice Minister Wei Jianguo argues that because the U.S. and China are great powers Trump would never walk away from Xi as he did Kim. The consequences would be too great. “It is important to boost confidence in a slowing global economy,” Wei said.

There are parallels for the Chinese.

In 1999, Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji returned from Washington believing he had successfully negotiated China’s accession to the World Trade Organization only to have the Clinton administration reverse itself for domestic reasons. That led to a backlash from China’s nationalists.

Erin Ennis, who tracks the negotiations for the U.S.-China Business Council, said a Trump snub of Xi this time around would be an order of magnitude greater than any previously. Then again, she said, “I don’t think the Chinese are the only government in the world that is not entirely sure what they are getting when they send their head of state into a meeting with the president of the United States.”

NYC inaugurates $25 billion mini-city

NEW YORK — A towering sculpture called Vessel — made up of 2,500 twisting steps the public can climb — is scheduled to open today as the visual centerpiece of Hudson Yards, a $25 billion urban complex on Manhattan’s West Side that is the city’s most ambitious development since the rebuilding of the World Trade Center.

When fully complete, the 28-acre site will include 16 towers of homes and offices, a hotel, a school, the highest outdoor observation deck in the Western Hemisphere, a performing arts center and a shopping mall that also opens today.

About half the complex is complete, with the rest scheduled to be done by 2025. The opening of the $200 million Vessel and the landscape around it will likely bring a wave of tourists to a rebuilt corner of the city that was previously characterized by a huge rail yard, parking lots and weedy sidewalks once known as a cruising ground for prostitutes.

The 3,200-ton structure was assembled from steel-and-concrete pieces manufactured in Monfalcone, Italy. Accommodating 600 visitors at a time, it’s 150 feet tall and rises from a narrow point at its base to a width of 150 feet at its peak.

“We needed to have a centerpiece, we needed to have an attraction, a destination — something where you would say, ‘I’ll meet you at,’” says Jay Cross, president of Related Hudson Yards, which partnered with the Oxford Properties Group to develop the site. “And we thought monumental art is the way to go.”

The concept was to make something “participatory,” he said of the sculpture, created by British designer Thomas Heatherwick. “The idea was that everybody would just come in and climb it, be able to propose marriage up here, or run up and down, do whatever they want.”

Admission is free, but people can get timed tickets in advance to avoid a line to enter.

The developers, including Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, have billed their project as the most expensive private development in U.S. history.

High-power tenants planning to move into Hudson Yards office space include CNN, WarnerMedia, Wells Fargo and the BlackRock money manager. The luxury goods maker Coach is already operating there. About 60 percent of nearly 300 luxury apartments on the market have been sold, with hundreds more coming up.

The observation deck is set to open later this year on the 100th story of one of the city’s tallest buildings. The wedge-shaped deck will be 100 feet above the one on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building, with a bird’s eye view of the New York skyline and the Atlantic Ocean.

The arts center, a 200,000-square foot building called The Shed, is scheduled to open April 5. It includes an outer shell that can deploy over an adjacent public plaza on huge wheels to expand the size of the performance space.

Also opening Friday is a seven-story mall called the Shops at Hudson Yards, with more than 100 stores offering brands from Cartier, Stuart Weitzman and Manhattan’s first Neiman Marcus to chains like H&M and Zara. There will also be a slew of dining choices including a Shake Shack, Neiman Marcus’s signature Zodiac restaurant and celebrity chefs’ restaurants.

Hudson Yards is part of a stretch of construction along the Hudson River from Columbus Circle to the World Trade Center that is gradually nudging New York’s power-and-money epicenter west from midtown Manhattan.