Tag Archives: China-U.S.

Two plausible views of Xi Jinping's rise prove we're clueless

Is Chinese Vice President and presumptive next President Xi Jinping a hard-liner who will return China to confrontations with the west? Or could it be that only a hard-liner could convince domestic nationalists that a more cooperative stance is beneficial to the CCP and the Chinese people?

Bruce Gilley argues Xi could end the reform era:

It may be time to concede that China’s leader-in-waiting, Xi Jinping, is not the moderate that many have assumed. Indeed, evidence from his past suggests that Xi is going to steer China in a more aggressive direction, both domestically and internationally. As his time in office nears, Xi is evincing signs of being a narrow nationalist on foreign policy and of having a penchant for police actions in dealing with domestic frictions. Hence, his rise could signify that the long struggle between Maoists and reformers that characterized China’s “reform era” is now ending.

Daniel Drezner proposes that the opposite might be true:

The phrase “only Nixon could go to China” refers to the idea that only someone who sounded as rabidly anti-communist as Richard Nixon in the past would be able to have the dometic political clout to meet with Mao Zedong and cut a deal with the People’s Republic of China.  Could it be that Xi is simply buttering up his base before taking power in order to make it easier to do business with the United States?

I don’t know the answer, but I suspect even hardcore China-watchers don’t know either.

I’m with Drezner, not because I think Xi Jinping is a Chinese Nixon, but because I think these arguments are rooted in nothing but speculation. Sure, it’s fun to speculate, and we’d be delighted to know more. But the personality of a leader is hard to interpret.

If you’re from the United States, consider less “exotic” leaders such as George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The former was supposed to be an isolationist and started two big wars. The latter was supposed to bring the wars to an end but has escalated the conflict in Afghanistan while participating in a new intervention in Libya. There’s no sense in arguing about these events, but there’s also no way we could have known how these events would unfold.

Put another way, consider the “only Nixon could go to China” aphorism. It may be true, but then, we never would have known that when Vice President Nixon was assigned to make the most strident anti-communist statements by President Eisenhower. Nor did Americans know in 1968 that Nixon was such a complex and conflicted figure, an anti-Semite one moment and a great proponent of Henry Kissinger the next, a leader who desperately wanted the United States out of Vietnam but decided the best way to do so was to enter Cambodia.

My point is that we don’t get to predict these sorts of things, and that there is nothing special about “Pekinology” in this sense. Intuiting the future by interpreting public statements and speculative psychology of leaders is a fool’s errand. Our effort would be better spent working on concrete problems and preparing for the actual negotiations and dilemmas the United States and China are likely to face: environmental regulation, cybersecurity, sovereign debt and currencies, and the like.

Here’s hoping that future leaders in the United States as well as China are motivated to work together and able to overcome domestic resistance to cooperative outcomes.


Pics: U.S. VP Joe Biden visits in Beijing neighborhood eatery

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Beijing is designed to lay the groundwork for later meetings between U.S. officials and rising leader Xi Jinping, who is currently Biden’s Chinese counterpart. Opting for a local favorite rather than a sterile array of table cloths and serving dishes, Biden made some waves on Weibo and in the U.S. media for mingling with local Beijing residents.

Evan Osnos has a write-up and a pool photo.


From Weibo, a picture in the vicinity, apparently while Biden was eating near the Drum Tower.


Someone's cell phone shot of the VP's party at Yaoji Chao Gan.

And from a past meeting between President Obama, President Carter, President Hu, and Vice President Biden:

President Barack Obama, along with President Hu Jintao of China, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, and Vice President Joseph Biden, listen to former President Jimmy Carter during a reception in the Yellow Oval Room in the Residence of the White House, Jan. 19, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Text of the U.S.–China joint statement

This idea stolen from Josh Rogin. I’m putting this here so I have it in the future. Source: White House. See also Rogin’s post on China bashing on Capitol Hill.

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 19, 2011
U.S. – China Joint Statement

1. At the invitation of President Barack Obama of the United States of America, President Hu Jintao of the People’s Republic of China is paying a state visit to the United States of America from January 18-21, 2011. During his visit, President Hu met with Vice President Joseph Biden, will meet with U.S. Congressional leadership, and will visit Chicago.

2. The two Presidents reviewed the progress made in the relationship since President Obama’s November 2009 State Visit to China and reaffirmed their commitment to building a positive, cooperative, and comprehensive U.S. – China relationship for the 21st century, which serves the interests of the American and Chinese peoples and of the global community. The two sides reaffirmed that the three Joint Communiqués issued by the United States and China laid the political foundation for the relationship and will continue to guide the development of U.S. – China relations. The two sides reaffirmed respect for each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Presidents further reaffirmed their commitment to the November 2009 U.S. – China Joint Statement.

3. The United States and China committed to work together to build a cooperative partnership based on mutual respect and mutual benefit in order to promote the common interests of both countries and to address the 21st century’s opportunities and challenges. The United States and China are actively cooperating on a wide range of security, economic, social, energy, and environmental issues which require deeper bilateral engagement and coordination. The two leaders agreed that broader and deeper collaboration with international partners and institutions is required to develop and implement sustainable solutions and to promote peace, stability, prosperity, and the well-being of peoples throughout the world.

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Noted: No mention of China in Obama press conference

The headlines says it all, and I’m not motivated to speculate on what this means at any length, but I didn’t remember anything on China in the Sept. 10 presser and did a word search on the transcript. Nothing.

I wouldn’t draw many conclusions from this, but it shows that the reporters who got to ask a question didn’t think China-related issues were newsworthy enough to bring up, and the president didn’t feel motivated to bring up China on his own.I wonder whether China issues, which are complex and involve economic, security, and cultural concerns, will continue to ride low until the midterm elections.

The Obama–McCain presidential campaign in 2008 was marked by an unusual absence of rhetoric involving being “tough” on China. As a candidate, Hillary Clinton had more to say about “standing up” to China. As secretary of state, she has unsurprisingly been more diplomatic. But both Obama and McCain in my memory let the China issue alone and argued about other things.

If my impressions are right here, it leads to a question: Why don’t U.S. politicians want to touch China in an election year?

California apologizes to Chinese Americans; U.S. Congress next?

Chinese migrants in California faced discrimination, violence, and forced expulsion from their homes on many occasions beginning in the mid-19th century. One historian’s account found almost 200 “roundups,” in which Chinese were pushed out of jobs, homes, and cities by those who resented the competition for jobs or mining spoils, or simply didn’t like Chinese people.* A lot of people are not around to hear the state of California apologize.

From Ling Woo Liu in Time Magazine:

On July 17, the California legislature quietly approved a landmark bill to apologize to the state’s Chinese-American community for racist laws enacted as far back as the mid–19th century Gold Rush, which attracted about 25,000 Chinese from 1849 to 1852. The laws, some of which were not repealed until the 1940s, barred Chinese from owning land or property, marrying whites, working in the public sector and testifying against whites in court. The new bill also recognizes the contributions Chinese immigrants have made to the state, particularly their work on the Transcontinental Railroad.

The website of Assemblymember Paul Fong (D-Cupertino), who sponsored the measure, reports that Gov. Schwarzenegger approved the apology measure on July 20. And Fong’s efforts are not to stop in California. Liu writes that Fong will seek a U.S. Congressional resolution apologizing for the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Full text of the resolution available here.

* Pfaelzer, Jean. Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans. New York: Random House, 2007. p. xxv.