In the midst of Republican “China-bashing”, yesterday President Xi Jinping of China began his state visit to the US in a conciliatory manner, making sure to include lots of American culture references and impressing citizens back home. The Republican debates on the other hand the Chinese see mainly as a joke. Which makes us recall the bungled welcoming given to a Chinese leader by the last Republican President, George W. Bush – surely an example US President Barack Obama will avoid repeating.
The leader of the world’s second largest economy deserves respect, and Obama knew it when he first assumed the presidency, declining the Dalai Lama a White House visit in 2009 ahead of visiting China. The UK, the traditional ally of the US, has ruffled a few American feathers by being too eager to partner with China. PM David Cameron is one of only 5 other nation leaders, and the only European leader, to have an account on the Chinese blogosphere Weibo. More worryingly, despite wariness at the Chinese threat to national cyber security it has allowed China to build a nuclear power station on home soil, and it is the first Western nation to sign up to what bodes to be a rival of the American dominated World Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Yet Sino-US relations appear to have deteriorated since 2009, and looks set to get worse with Hilary Clinton seeming to be a strong candidate for the next presidential term. Just two weeks ago a Chinese delegation came to Washington to discuss cyber security. In Seattle, Xi speaks to an audience composed primarily of business leaders. The political pressure will increase when he heads for Washington D.C. on 24th September and U.N. Headquarters in New York City on the 26th.
From an unserious perspective, Xi and Obama are physiognomical and cultural opposites: Xi is plump, Obama thin; Xi is a Classicist while Obama is a Modernist; and while Xi is affectionately known as Xi Dada in China and is increasingly fitting the traditional mould of the authoritarian Communist leader, the Americans don’t quite picture Obama as Uncle Sam. Their daughters also live different lifestyles: Xi Mingze graduated from Harvard last year but very little is known about her, unlike Sasha and Malia who are often in the public spotlight and were criticised for their appearance at last year’s Thanksgiving turkey pardoning.
More seriously, the American stance differs from the Chinese one on key issues such as ensuring Iran’s nuclear pledge is kept, the possibility of an extradition treaty between the US and China, and China’s expanding military presence on islands in the South China Sea. The differences persist even in areas in which you might expect them to share common ground, weaknesses in cyber-security and the dangers of the slowing down of China’s economic growth, for which China is blamed. However, after meeting Xi in Beijing last year, Obama did say that “there have always been more common interests between China and the United States than the differences between us.”
Completely disregarding the emphasis the Chinese place on courtesy and sociability when doing business, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump advocated a cheap, laughable meal that Kingsman villain Richmond Valentine would serve, one that the Chinese increasingly need to be weaned off. Thankfully President Obama has not decided to make Xi’s reception in Washington D.C. an anticlimax to Seattle. He will probably serve Xi something similar to the state banquet for Hu Jintao in 2011, a meal which if anything represents the homely rather than ruthless aspect of American values. Perhaps the bitter mistrust preceding Xi’s arrival will be sweetened over apple pie – as the video above shows, the official Chinese press Xinhua has been keen to publicise Xi’s fondness for Americans, and Xi is scheduled to revisit Tacoma tomorrow.