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The world looked intently at Hu Jintao in America

COMMENTARY | May 04, 2006

The Chinese say Hu’s trip to the U.S. as a great, positive visit but papers elsewhere scoff and see the two countries as far apart.

By John Burke

As Chinese President Hu Jintao traveled across the Pacific to attend his “business visit” in Washington state and “official visit” in Washington D.C., the rest of the world looked on intently, knowing very well that relations between the Dragon and the Eagle are likely to determine the future of the world economy. Still, they didn’t expect much to come of the visit, expectations which were confirmed in post-summit editorials.

One couldn’t find a discouraging word concerning the summit on the pages of the Communist Party controlled People’s Daily. A total of 13 “opinion” pieces amounted to a rosy image of U.S.-Sino relations without a lick of criticism for either nation. It is really only necessary to read one of the columns to get the gist of the paper’s viewpoint; each revolved around three main inferences:

  • Hu’s trip was a “great” visit in the history of diplomacy between the two nations
  • Healthy US/China political relations are beneficial for the world
  • Global economic prosperity depends on good U.S./China trade relations

Here’s a sampling:

A successful summit

“But one thing is certain, that is the positive impact on bilateral ties or even international relations generated by the direct dialogue between top leaders of the world's largest developing and developed countries.

“This is therefore a successful visit viewed from both governmental and non-governmental perspectives, as well as a successful summit devoted to deeper mutual understanding and trust, wider consensus and expanded constructive cooperative relationships.”

Sino-US summit has three “enlightenments”

“Usually, the bilateral frictions will increase when two countries approach each other more closely. This is the fundamental reason why China and America reported more problems in many areas such as economics and trade, human rights, security, and regional mutual trust. If one exaggerates these frictions, he would easily become pessimistic about Sino-US relations. But if he puts these questions into a broad scenario in which Sino-US relations gradually move toward a thorough and mature level, he would find out that these problems are simply natural phenomena that occur during the spiraling up of the Sino-U.S. relations. Comparing with the overall stable framework of the Sino-U.S. relations, these problems are the secondary contradictions.” (Click here)

Sino-US economic and trade cooperation to soar

“Although his visit to Boeing and Microsoft is quite short, president Hu's Seattle trip triggered enthusiastic responses which have clearly demonstrated that Sino-U.S. economic and trade cooperation is mutually beneficial and win-win cooperation that meet the demands of both sides. The Sino-US economic complementarity is the driving force of the rapid development of Sino-U.S. economic and trade relations. Sino-U.S. economic and trade cooperation is of greater significance to the development of both countries.” (Click here)

The different Washingtons

“The China-U.S. economic relations have become important factors having a direct bearing on the prospect of peace and development of the world, as the two economies have become the major engines to power the global economy. That is why the whole world is so closely watching President Hu's visit and the China-US summit.” (Click here)

Malaysian paper says U.S. didn’t ‘bone up’

In “Guess who did not bone up on China,” Malaysia’s New Straits Times wasn’t as optimistic, especially when it came to America’s preparation for Hu’s visit:

“All these incidents (announcing China’s official name incorrectly, Falun Gong journalist’s outburst, poor Chinese translation of Bush’s speech), each minor, taken together suggest that the United States Government and American society still do not take China seriously. While China likes to think of itself as the equal of the United States, Americans and their Government think so little of China that they don’t even take the trouble to ensure that they have the proper name of the country or the title of the visitor.”

And what about Taiwan?

Taiwanese columnists in the Taipei Times, always keeping a close eye on the actions of the People’s Party, had much to say about Hu’s U.S. visit. They were somewhat perturbed that the problems between their democracy and the Communist mainland were not top on the list of discussion topics, but most tried to move past it and comment on other issues:

One columnist gave the upper hand to Bush and in, the jest of the satirical “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” took a jab at Western television news stations in “No tears at the ‘Boo-Hoo summit.’”

“But watching George W. Bush manhandling Hu – who appeared to be hiding a Dong Feng-II ballistic missile up his ... um ... Special Administrative Region, as it were – was hilarious.

“The anchor on "Taiwanese" cable station TVBS was quick to say that it couldn't be a mistake that White House security took so long to respond, but that's a bit too conspiratorial for me. Still, at least commentators on both CNN and the BBC World Service pointed out that Wang could never have protested in such a way in China. Thanks, guys; I couldn't have figured that one out for myself.”

Another Taipei Times columnist also dismissed the possibility that the Falun Gong journalist’s eruption was ordered by the White House and warned that anti-China rhetoric will increase as the midterm elections approach in “Hot economics, lukewarm politics”:

“Was this a deliberate administration attempt to embarrass Hu? Of course not. Nonetheless, conspiracy theorists will have a field day with this one and Beijing will be watching closely to see if Wang really gets the jail time most are forecasting.

“From a foreign policy perspective, the visit underscored just how far apart both sides remain on major issues.

“Two years ago, both sides were proclaiming that Sino-US relations were "the best ever." This phrase is seldom if ever heard today. While it is still premature to describe the relationship as "hot economics, cold politics" – a catch phrase now being used to describe Japan's relations with China and South Korea – politics at present are, at best, lukewarm and the trend is heading in the wrong direction. And, without serious movement on the trade imbalance, IPR, revaluation and greater financial transparency and reform, "hot economics" could become "hot potato" economics as the U.S.' fall election campaigns begin to heat up.”

Yet another seemingly bitter Taiwanese columnist scoffs at the idea that the Communist Party would ever consider a conversion to democracy and says that “China needs to earn respect:”

“Chinese President Hu Jintao wrapped up his US visit by telling an audience at Yale University that his country plans to follow its own path. He said that China will draw on the political experiences of other countries, but will not simply copy the political models of foreigners.

“This statement shows that the long-term strategy of the US – engaging China economically in the hope that it will transform itself politically – has so far been an abject failure. China is basically giving the Bush administration the middle finger and saying, “We will manufacture and sell you all the cheap consumer goods you want, but please don't lecture us on democracy and human rights.”

The Guardian is pessimistic

In the West, The Guardian was very pessimistic about trade relations between the two powers and the economic conundrum facing American consumers in “Can America foot the bill for its Chinese takeaway?”

“Last week George Bush, leader of the most powerful country on earth, met Hu Jintao, his banker…

“Chinese manufacturers are having a great time feeding the insatiable  appetite of U.S. shoppers, who can't get enough of those low Chinese prices. The Americans, meanwhile, have money in their pockets because they can borrow at low interest rates, which are in turn a product of China buying bucks on international markets.

“This is an unspoken bargain and a perilous one. The US trade deficit cannot keep growing exponentially. American industry desperately wants to sell something back to the Chinese, but their bloated currency, among other things, holds them back.

“The background to last week's summit is an ominous rise in tensions. Mr Hu promised that China would buy more American goods, and he dished out some juicy orders to Boeing. But this will not satisfy those who argue ever more vociferously that the US is destroying its industrial base to support a communist country's industrialisation. There are 20 anti-China bills currently in Congress. To head them off, Mr Bush needed a promise that China would revalue its currency. He got nothing.

“This was a diplomatic failure on the part of Mr Bush, but that does not mean it was a success for Mr Hu - not in the long term.

“Without more effective dialogue, the US and China look set to follow their current trajectory towards a trade war that would have catastrophic consequences for both countries.”

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