Hu in Washington

January 22, 2011 - 0:0

The four-day visit to the United States of China’s President Hu Jintao is a very different affair from the botched low-grade 2006 meeting with President George W. Bush, when a joint news conference was interrupted by a protester and China’s national anthem was announced as being from “The Republic of China” which is the name of the breakaway state of Taiwan.

This time President Obama has accorded the Chinese leader a full state visit with all due honor and ceremonial. Moreover, unlike the bumbling Bush White House, the Chinese guests are being treated as equals and accorded all the respect due a surging economy, which is now second in world terms only to the United States.
As if to drive home China’s astonishing economic performance, Beijing announced revised growth figures for 2010, showing the country’s economic output grew by no less than 10.3 percent in the year.
If this visit continues to be a success, then it is extremely important not just for the United States but for every country. China has an immense domestic agenda to lift hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty. However, its expanding place in the world, driven not least by its burgeoning international requirements for many raw materials to underpin its growth, means that China has to face up to additional responsibilities.
Naturally, the Chinese are looking first and foremost to their own region of the globe but their political and economic involvement in Africa has demonstrated that they are prepared to step out of their geopolitical comfort zone. In the long-term this beneficial influence could extend to the Middle East.
The immediate hope, however, must be that Beijing and Washington will form a better understanding of each other’s priorities and that a useful chemistry will be formed between the two presidents. It is not simply the artificial weakness of the Chinese currency that is concerning the Americans. China’s military power and reach is growing. It is crucial that the U.S. military presence in the Asia Pacific region does not become a source of dispute. Washington is calculating that the Chinese will wish to extend their influence through economic, not military power. Not only does U.S. business want a share of the huge Chinese market but the export Chinese capital is seen as a key source of new investment that will boost the global economy.
But here is the rub. Many Americans have not been handling very well the erosion of their economic dominance. They are crying foul not just over the weak Chinese currency, but over a range of other issues, including hidden state subsidies, industrial espionage and intellectual property. The Chinese can rightly riposte that historically the U.S. has been prepared to use very similar tactics and like the Europeans before them, back up Big Business with military force.
Thus the proof of Washington’s good faith will be how well it copes with the loss of its global economic hegemony and adapts to the new reality of a surging China. Let U.S. hope that both sides will take away important lessons from Hu’s U.S. state visit