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Trump Steals the Show in Pennsylvania; China's Parliament to Remove Presidential Limits. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired March 11, 2018 - 03:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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ANNA COREN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, everyone, thanks for joining us. I'm Anna Coren in Hong Kong. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

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COREN: U.S. President Trump went to the U.S. state of Pennsylvania on Saturday to help a fellow Republican win a House race.

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DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I love this place. Hello, Pittsburgh. Hello, Pittsburgh.

COREN (voice-over): But when he hit the stage, the event quickly changed into a campaign rally for himself. Before a huge crowd, Mr. Trump talked up his achievements, including the upcoming talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

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We are going to have a meeting and there is no more missiles going off. And they want to denuclearize, nobody had heard that. Nobody thought -- but they said they are thinking about that.

Who knows what's going to happen?

Hey, who knows?

If it happens, if it doesn't happen, I may live fast or we may sit down and make the greatest deal for the world and for all of these countries, including, frankly, North Korea. That's what I hope happens.

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COREN: Well, the president added that he spoke with Chinese president Xi Jinping earlier on Saturday about the talks and praised him for his help -- mostly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: President Xi of China has really helped us a lot. They have really helped us. And because 93 percent of the goods come in through China going into Korea, North Korea, 93 percent. So that's pretty powerful. And they have been very good. They could have done more, but that's OK. I say to them, you have been great.

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COREN: This hour President Xi Jinping, one of the most powerful Chinese leaders in decades, solidifies his grip on power even more. China's National People's Congress is expected to approve without opposition a constitutional amendment to abolish presidential term limits.

Well, that means President Xi would officially be able to rule indefinitely. Critics say this effectively turns him into a dictator. But his supporters say it will bring consistency to China's policymaking for years to come.

Well, removing the presidential term limits will also have major consequences beyond China. Our Matt Rivers joins us now live from Beijing.

And, Matt, the National People's Congress is effectively voting to allow Xi to become the leader for life. There will be no debate. This is a mere formality.

How is this being received on the mainland?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is really no way to gauge public opinion here in a broad swath, in terms of being able to completely definitively say how people view this.

But your point about this being merely a formality at this point, that's the takeaway here. Whether you like this, if you're a Chinese citizen, or you don't like this, frankly it doesn't really matter at this point because it is going to happen.

In the next couple of hours, we're not exactly sure when but we do know that these constitutional amendments, along with several other proposals will be voted on in a building just to my right over there. That's the Great Hall of the People, where all these delegates from across the country have gathered here for the National People's Congress.

And it will be voted. And it will be approved. How much we find out about the vote, how much we will know about any dissenting votes, if there are any, we are not sure. But this is going to pave the way for Xi Jinping to remain president Florida as long as he wants.

But it's important to remember that this is not happening in a vacuum. This is at the tail end of a real massive power grab by Xi Jinping that started years ago but more formally happened late last year, when he was reelected as the general secretary of the Communist Party and he has Xi Jinping Thought, as it's formally known, written into the Communist Party constitution.

Those two things happening, frankly, are more important than the presidency and the abolishment of the term limits. But when you take them all of those things together, you combine them. What you're seeing, you said it right off the top, Anna, this is Xi Jinping becoming the most powerful Chinese politician, leader here since Mao Zedong.

COREN: Matt, Xi's supporters obviously believe this is what China needs. It will provide stability, social order, allow Xi to carry out his ambitious plans for the country.

But why now?

Why is he taking this action now?

RIVERS: Well, frankly, because he can. He can do it right now. This is, you know he spent the first five years of his rule here in China, kind of paving the way for this moment. He sees a chance at using the political capital that he has garnered over his --

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RIVERS: -- first five years and he can use that political capital to stay in power for years to come. He has the authority now to do this.

After what we saw during the 19th Party Congress, which happened in October of last year, where his thought was written into the constitution, basically what that means is that if you criticize Xi Jinping, you're criticizing the Communist Party itself and that's a big no-no here in China.

And so being able to seize upon his momentum that he gathered late last year, that's why he is doing this now. Critics will say that this is just setting him up to be a dictator and go back to the one- man style rule that was the hallmark of the Mao years here in the early days of Communist China. And those were some pretty terrible years for China. And that's what critics are afraid of might happen moving forward

COREN: Matt Rivers in Beijing. We appreciate your analysis. Thank you.

Well, as we heard earlier, President Trump spoke with President Xi Jinping on Friday about his upcoming meeting with the North Korean leader. For some more perspective on President Trump's meeting with the North Korean leader -- Matt Rivers stays with us. But let's now bring in Andrew Stevens from Seoul.

Andrew, we're certainly learning more details about Trump's snap decision in the Oval Office to meet with Kim Jong-un, catching even his closest advisers off guard. But he is not backing down. If anything from the speech in Pennsylvania, President Trump is locked in and hopes good things will happen.

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN ASIA PACIFIC EDITOR: Absolutely, Anna, he is going full steam ahead on this upcoming meeting with Kim Jong-un. He said -- he told that crowd in Pennsylvania that I believe that good things are going to happen. That was actually his quote. And he also said that he believes that Kim Jong-un is sincere.

He also says that he thinks that he will honor his commitment not to test any nuclear missiles or test any nuclear weaponry. In fact, he tweeted just recently -- and just let me read you this tweet about Kim.

"North Korea has not conducted a missile test since November 28, 2017, and has promised not to do so through our meetings. I believe they will honor that commitment."

So it's fairly clear, even though there -- his decision to meet with Kim has thrown the White House into confusion, there is also certainly a lot of conflicting messages, particularly about whether there are going to be any preconditions imposed by the administration on this meeting because Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, was saying that -- fairly broadly hinting that there need to be some concrete actions taken on denuclearization by Kim Jong-un before he meets with Donald Trump.

Certainly we haven't heard from Kim via the South Koreans, who have been talking, sort of acting almost as Kim's mouthpiece, if you like, that Kim was offering anything like concrete actions before the talks, other than to stop the missile testing.

So there does seem to be confusion about the details, about what the White House is wanting Kim to do before the meeting. But at this stage, as you say, Donald Trump is gung ho, full steam ahead, to have this meeting -- Anna.

Matt, if I can bring you back into the conversation, President Trump also mentioned that President Xi -- he was praising China for being very helpful in making these talks happen. He said they could have done more but they were very helpful.

What's the reaction from Beijing?

RIVERS: Well, Beijing has to be looking at this development and kind of patting itself of the back in a lot of ways. I think they're going to look at their strategy, which was simply to sign on to the toughest ever sanctions levied by the U.N. Security Council and China.

You heard the president say it, is responsible for somewhere around 90 percent of all trade that North Korea engages in. So China more than any other country has to implement those sanctions.

And we have seen for ourselves here in China that they have largely been doing that. And so what Beijing is looking at is saying, we signed on to the sanctions, that apparently is having an effect on the Kim Jong-un regime.

And if that has something to do with Kim Jong-un being willing to meet with President Trump, well, that's a good thing. Keep in mind that China's consistent position about how to solve this continuing crisis on the Korean Peninsula has always been that the United States and North Korea need to sit down in a room and hash things out.

And so while they're realistic about the potential bumps in the road, about the natures of both Kim Jong-un and President Trump being what they are, they are certainly realistic that it might not be a smooth process. But they're very happy at this point that both sides seem to be willing to sit down.

COREN: Andrew, let's talk about the bumps in the road because there is obviously a lot of concern that there is not much time between now and May to organize these talks, the framework of logistics. But as we know, in Trump World a week, a day is a long time. And we --

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COREN: -- can't forget, too, that these two leaders were threatening annihilation of each other's countries not so long ago. So I guess there is a lot of room for things to go wrong.

STEVENS: There is an awful lot of room for this meeting to go terribly pear-shaped and it's obviously over such a critical issue. Sort of nuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. We've hard, as you pointed out, Anna, that there have been threats of war, threats of military strikes, of military bloody noses against Kim Jong-un. So there is an awful lot at stake here.

And the big picture is what is Kim Jong-un prepared to give up and at what cost to America?

Because Kim Jong-un is talking about denuclearization. Remember the nuclear strategy has been the keystone of the regime's survival in many, many ways.

So is he really prepared to give that up when he talks about he would give it up because he will get -- or because he is asking for security guarantees, what are those security guarantees?

Is the U.S. prepared to break the alliance with South Korea?

Does South Korea even want that?

Is the U.S. prepared to pull its troops back from South Korea?

So if they're talking about denuclearization, it's very difficult to say that this is going to be anything other than a very, very long and torturous path. And if history is any guide, Anna, it's been done before and it's failed before. And it's failed quite significantly before because the North Koreans now have a very, very capable nuclear program.

So what they can hope to get out of this?

That's the question of the moment. Donald Trump is not dialing back. He says he wants talks. He says is prepared to leave the room if it goes wrong. He is prepared to go hard in either direction; that is what he actually said again in another tweet. So it's got minds in the White House obviously scrambling to come to

some sort of strategy, some sort of palatable strategy, which would give Donald Trump a win and which will keep things moving forward.

COREN: Gentlemen, good to talk to you, both of you. Andrew Stevens in Seoul, Matt Rivers in Beijing. Many thanks for your time.

Next week, CNN is partnering with young people around the world for a student-led day of action against modern-day slavery. It's on March 14th. Well, in advance of My Freedom Day, we are asking people around the world what freedom means to them. Organizers of a school walkout to protest gun violence in the U.S. had this to say.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To me, freedom means the right to speak up and the right to have a say in the policies that affect our lives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The right to vote, the right to speak up and the right to make change, especially as a woman.

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COREN: Tell the world what freedom means to you. And share your story using the #MyFreedomDay.

Thanks so much for your company. I'm Anna Coren. "MARKETPLACE AFRICA" is coming up next here on CNN.