Hu Are You?

January 18, 2011

Hu Are You?

Friedberg predicts the return of smile diplomacy without change in China's foreign policy. And the newspapers tell Obama to stick it to Hu.

Chinese President Hu Jintao's state visit is nearly upon us and the newspapers are handing out advice for U.S. President Barack Obama. The New York Times's editors say they've been "reassured" that the Obama administration actually has "a China strategy," but criticize the president for being "far too deferential" the last time the two leaders got together in Beijing. Also in the Times, Harvard Law professor Mark Wu urges everyone to stop worrying about China's currency, calling claims that a stronger renminbi is the magic ingredient for America's economic recovery "wishful thinking." His point: it's mostly their problem, not ours, and there are more important bilateral issues to focus on.

The Wall Street Journal editorial is a longer version of the Times's—China has been acting out; Obama has been too deferential on human rights yet too aggressive on economic policy; and if China wants "to be treated as an equal it must behave like one." Princeton professor Aaron Friedberg writes that China's assertiveness over the past year has "triggered reactions that could make it harder" for Beijing to become"the dominant power in East Asia." He expects the return of "smile diplomacy" from President Hu to try and smooth things over, but says the Chinese are "not going to abandon . . . regional preponderance." And a rising nationalism and strong belief that America is in decline mean that the PRC's recent behavior is "not a temporary deviation but a portent." Meanwhile, Journal reporter Jason Dean says Hu is "almost certainly the least understood of the world's major leaders," due to his surrounding "cloak of secrecy."

Following in the footsteps of its editorial brethren, the Washington Post says Obama must build on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's "newfound assertiveness" toward China on human rights. The Post thinks that "support for liberalization has appeared to be growing within the Chinese elite" and the Obama administration should "make clear that a liberalizing China will be far more welcome as it rises." (No word on how domestic political freedom would translate into a less aggressive Chinese foreign policy.)