When Chinese President Xi Jinping meets US President Donald Trump at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida the pair probably won’t be playing any golf.
Trump is a devoted golf player. He’s played more than a dozen times since taking office. When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met Trump in February at Mar-a-Lago, the billionaire’s private Florida club that he calls the “winter White House,” they played a round together.
But Xi likely won’t be participating in any golf diplomacy when he holds his first face-to-face meeting with the new American president this week.
“The idea of capitalists and particularly Chinese officials going around and playing this sport — it doesn’t look good,” says Austin Ramzy, who has reported about golf in China for The New York Times.
In China, golf is considered a pastime of the elites and incompatible with Communist Party values. It’s illegal for Chinese officials to play.
When China opened up its economy in the 1980s, golf became much more popular in the country, but in 2004 the government banned the building of golf courses. Despite that ban, as China’s middle and monied classes have grown, no other country in the world has built more golf courses in the last decade.
“It’s hard to wrap your head around, but that’s the reality in China,” Ramzy says. “Golf courses are opened as part of housing developments, but they don’t call them golf courses.”
Even though developers keep building them, in recent years, Xi has overseen the closure of more than 100 courses across China and turned the land back to farming and housing.
The government has even set up a hotline for people to call if they see officials playing golf — a small part of a larger anti-corruption crackdown by Xi, Ramzy explains.
“Golf [in China] has had a perception of being a source of corruption,” Ramzy says, “and golf courses are a place that are seen as where corrupt deals are happening.”
Whatever dealings go down between Xi and Trump at Mar-a-Lago, they’ll have to happen somewhere else.
“He might take a walk with him,” Ramzy says. “That’s what he did with Obama.”
This article first appeared on PRI The World.