By Ralph A. Cossa
Global Beat Syndicate
WASHINGTON —I had dinner with Chinese President Hu Jintao
last Thursday night! He was hoping for George Bush. Instead he got me
(and 900 others, mostly from Washington and New York think tanks and
business councils), in a Washington hotel ballroom.
wanted a formal state visit, complete with a White House dinner, like
his predecessor Jiang Zemin received during his first visit with Bill
Clinton. White House officials offered the Bush administration's "moral
equivalent" of a state visit -- a trip to the Crawford, Texas ranch --
but Hu held out for the state visit that never was.
decided to call it a state visit anyway, insisting on a 21-gun salute
during White House ceremonies. There was a 22nd blast, from a "loose
cannon" in the press corps: Wang Wenyi, representing The Epoch Times, a
pro-Falun Gong newspaper, interrupted Hu's remarks to demand an end to
China's persecution of her banned religious sect. Conspiracy theorists
will have a field day speculating that the White House was using this
to embarrass Hu.
a foreign policy standpoint, Hu’s visit underscored just how far apart
both sides remain on major issues. Bush pointedly urged China "to use
its considerable influence with North Korea." Hu;’s mild response was
that "The Six-Party Talks have run into some difficulties" and that he
hoped Washington and Pyongyang "will be able to further display
flexibility" to "create necessary conditions for the early resumption
of the talks." Washington is clearly getting frustrated with Beijing's
approach, which seems to blame the United States as much as North Korea
for the current impasse.
the other two "hot button" issues, Hu made it clear that China is not
prepared to back a hardline U.S. position on Iran and would address
revaluation of its currency on its own timetable, promising vaguely to
"continue to take steps" in that direction.
Bush was careful not to plow any new ground on Taiwan, merely repeating
his mantra that "We oppose unilateral changes in the status quo."
Beijing was hoping for a specific rebuke of Taiwan’s President Chen
Shui-bian, given his February declaration that the National Unification
Council had "ceased to function." But this was not meant to be.
public, Bush also stuck with the "do not support independence"
formulation, while Hu praised Bush for saying that he "opposes Taiwan
independence" -- a formulation Bush has never used publicly (although
other senior officials have).
Bush also made it clear that Beijing needs to move toward greater
democracy and respect for human rights: "China can grow even more
successful by allowing the Chinese people the freedom to assemble, to
speak freely, and to worship." Of course, every time President Bush
mentions religious freedom, the first thing that comes to Chinese minds
is Falun Gong, thus raising questions anew about the South Lawn
a more positive note, President Bush did refer to both countries as
responsible "stakeholders in the international system," reinforcing a
theme that has become the buzzword for Sino-U.S. relations. This is
designed to reduce Beijing's complaints about the judgmental nature of
the term "responsible." But the question of who gets to define what
behavior is "responsible" remains a real bone of contention.
a business perspective, the trip was only slightly more productive.
Hu's $16 billion buying spree, while a mere drop in the bucket (given
our more than $200 billion dollar annual trade deficit with China), was
nonetheless appreciated, as was his expressed commitment to protect
intellectual property rights (IPR) and move China toward a more
while China remains an attractive place to do business, given the
profit potential, Beijing's slow movement toward fundamental economic
reform -- greater regulatory transparency, the removal of structural
impediments, and observance of the rule of law –has caused even the
most bullish on China to remain wary.
years ago, both sides were proclaiming that Sino-U.S. relations were
"the best ever." This phrase is seldom heard today. While it is still
premature to describe the relationship as "hot economics, cold
politics" -- a phrase being used to describe Japan's relations with
China and South Korea -- Sino-U.S. politics at present are, at best,
lukewarm and the trend is heading in the wrong direction. And without
serious movement on the trade imbalance, currency revaluation, and
greater financial transparency and reform, "hot economics" could become
"hot potato" economics as fall 2006 U.S. election campaigns heat up.