Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Mr Hu Leaves Washington Unruffled

President Hu Jintao’s four-day visit to America was so uneventful it must be declared a success. As expected there were no significant policy advances or position changes by either side. There was less to Hu’s public remarks on human rights than met the eye, on North Korea he reiterated a position Washington has already rejected, and on trade issues even Hu’s statement that Beijing has abandoned its policy of favoring “indigenous innovation” won’t necessarily mean that U.S. firms will find doing business in China will change much.

Yet what mattered was the tone. We said before the visit that both leaders would have to ensure that relations between the two countries didn’t deteriorate further, and that the areas in which their national interests overlap, from climate change to Iran, North Korea and the international financial system, are stable and expanding. On the whole the pair achieved that goal. Emollience was the order of the day. Hu, in particular, stuck doggedly to his well-worn message that China’s wasn’t a threat to anyone and sought only a partnership based on mutual respect. And with no gaffes, unlike on Hu’s first visit in 2006 during the Bush administration, there was little grist for the hawks of either country. Both leaders’ hands were strengthened in pursuing engagement rather than confrontation between the two (not that that means that there won’t be a series of tension points between the countries; there will.)

In addition, Hu got to be seen at home as participating in a meeting of equals. U.S. President Barack Obama got to be seen at home as a gracious, not supplicant host of a nation that, for all China’s rise, is still a superpower.

 

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Hu Softens On Iran But Keeps Hard Line On Yuan

U.S. President Barak Obama took what he could from his private meeting with President Hu Jintao ahead of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington. That was a willingness of China to be open to sanctions as well as diplomacy to pressure Iran over its nuclear program. But he got nothing when it came to the contentious issue of revaluing the yuan. That would happen when China deemed it should, Hu said, yet again, reminding his U.S. counterpart that “RMB appreciation would neither balance Sino-U.S. trade nor solve the unemployment problem in the United States,” and throwing in a cheeky suggestion that if Washington loosened its restrictions on high-tech exports, American companies could export more to China.

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China-U.S. Relations Wobble Further

Over the almost two decades the Dalai Lama has been calling on American presidents at the White House, this Bystander can’t recall even once when Beijing had a good word to say about the visit. Equally we can’t recall a condemnation as strong as the one following the exiled Tibetan leader’s meeting with President Barack Obama. The White House choreographed the visit as artfully as it could to keep it low key (Map Room not Oval Office, for example) and Obama was deliberate in acknowledging Tibet as part of China. But to no avail. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu:

“The U.S. act grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs, gravely hurt the Chinese people’s national sentiments and seriously damaged the Sino-U.S. ties.”

What is as interesting is commentary in state media. This presents the meeting in a context of a combination of Obama’s need to deflect attention from his domestic political and economic problems and America’s discomfort with the erosion of its power in the face of China’s rise. The several references to the U.S.’s “Cold War” mentality towards the U.S.-China relationship caught our eye, not so much because it subtly casts the U.S. as part of the past but because it implicitly suggests that China is writing  new rules of international relations. Those, to borrow the jargon of the business world, will be for a world comprised of ‘frenemies’, for a new Great Game in which China will do much better than one in which its given role is to play the part of the old Soviet Union.

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Tweedledum and Tweedledee

Not much to say about U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit, beyond low expectations met. And what was with the matching dark suits, red ties and white shirts at the two presidents’ closing photo op? Some unintentional symbolism of the two countries being a mirror image of each other?

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Spinmasters Winners Of Obama’s Shanghai Town Hall Meeting

U.S. President Obama’s town-hall meeting in Shanghai turned out to be much ado about nothing: generous words for his hosts, and no contentious issues like trade or Tibet tackled head on, just generic and diplomatically couched praise for the universal values of freedom of religion, speech and political expression, with the code words used resonating more outside the country than in. Indeed, much of the human rights message may well have ben aimed more at Obama’s audience at home, where he is being criticized for giving China a free pass on the subject.

Most Chinese, of course, would have been unable to see the meeting as it was only broadcast locally in Shanghai and not on national TV (as former President Bill Clinton’s equivalent was when he visited China). State media reports concentrated on Obama’s more upbeat remarks about the Sino-American relationship:  “the United States does not seek to contain China’s rise and he welcomes China as a ‘strong, prosperous and successful member of the community of nations'”, Xinhua reported.

Foreign press seem to have been at a different meeting. Their headlines are dominated by the U.S. president’s call for greater internet freedom for Chinese (in response to a question e-mailed to the U.S. embassy in China, so how much of a coincidence is that?) The meeting was webcast (reluctantly on the Chinese side) but, despite pre-meeting briefings of Chinese bloggers by American embassy and consulate staffs, much off the online discussion is taking place outside the country since social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are blocked. Obama’s call for greater Internet freedom in China was taken off the NetEase’s home page by the censors within half an hour.

Two worlds, two messages. As the U.S. president heads for snowy Beijing and the business end of the visit, both sets of spin masters must be satisfied with a job well done in Shanghai.

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Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize

Beijing coped a break with the Nobel Peace prize going to Barack Obama. For that meant it wasn’t awarded to a Chinese dissident. China’s human rights record escapes another round of global scrutiny, something Obama could have discussed with his now fellow laureate, the Dalai Lama, when they meet. Ah!

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China, Obama and Taiwan

What caught this Bystander’s eye in the otherwise pro-forma congratulatory messages from the Chinese leadership to U.S. President-elect Barack Obama was the prominence given to the importance of the Three Communiques.

For younger readers, those are the three joint statements by China and the U.S. in the 1970s and early 1980s that provided a framework for normalizing relations between the two countries. Obama was 9-years old, incidentally, at the time the first one was written.

All three address the contentious Taiwan issue and collectively provide the One-China doctrine by which the U.S. recognizes the PRC as the sole legal government of China. With a deft bit of diplomatic drafting, Washington declared that it would end formal political relations with the people of Taiwan while preserving economic and cultural ties.

Relations between Beijing and Taipei are warming. This week’s visit by Chen Yunlin, the highest ranking Chinese official to visit the island since 1949, has already resulted in a slew of groundbreaking agreements to improve trade and communications across the Taiwan Straits (see: “Beijing And Taipei Sign Suite Of Trade Deals“). Taiwan’s new president Ma Ying-jeou, wants closer relations with the mainland, a contrast to his hard-line predecessor.  Regardless of the pro-independence protests that have accompanied Chen’s visit, Beijing may be sensing a window of opportunity. It was restrained in its criticism of the Bush administration’s $6.5 billion arms sale to Taiwan announced in October (see “Taiwan Arms Sales A Storm In A Teacup“). A new president always offers  the chance of a fresh start.

While Obama has frequently talked about China, he has said little about Taiwan. He only seems to have mentioned it once in Congress and his campaign position papers give over only one paragraph to it.

Barack Obama and Joe Biden recognize the importance of maintaining the One China policy, as laid out in the Three Communiqués, and they also underscore that the Taiwan Relations Act, an act of the U.S. Congress passed on March 29, 1979, undergirds our relations with Taiwan. They will work to ensure that a military conflict across the Taiwan Strait never arises – by maintaining good relations with China and Taiwan and by making clear that we expect them to resolve their differences peacefully and through dialogue. While Barack Obama and Joe Biden oppose the use of force to resolve the issue, he will act to ensure that Taiwan, a thriving democracy, is not coerced into accepting a change in its status against its will. As Obama said in May 2007, “This means maintaining our military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, strengthening our alliances, and making clear to both Beijing and Taipei that a unilateral change in the status quo in the Taiwan Strait is unacceptable.”

All very measured, in the Obama way. Change might be coming to America, but not , this Bystander would hazard, to U.S. Taiwan policy anytime soon.

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