United States Hosts Chinese Premier Hu Jintao
Hu Jintao, China’s President and General Secretary of the Communist Party, concluded a three-day visit to America this past Friday. Because Hu divided his time between Washington, DC and Chicago, his visit had broad ramifications not only for American foreign policy and national-level economic interests but also for primarily Midwestern issues. President Barack Obama had a useful opportunity to voice concerns on a wide range of topics, and while he made some headway, it is clear that there remains much work to be done.
Topics discussed by President Obama and President Hu included American national security concerns—especially in Korea and Iran—as well as future Chinese foreign policy objectives, intellectual property disputes, human rights inside China, and bilateral trade. The Obama team especially sought fuller insight on China’s policies and its leadership’s view of the world as it relates to the United States. With so much ground to cover in so few days, there is clearly more discussion and high level dialogue that must occur in order for these issues to be resolved, but some progress was nonetheless achieved.
For Midwesterners, the compromises made during the state visit are hopeful signs. Among the most important of these were discussions on improving the protection of American intellectual property in Asian markets; the finalization of a major American export deal; and senior-level discussions about how China can better foster an American-friendly business climate. Unfortunately, President Hu’s time in office will end in 2012, and the jury is still out as to how much improvement in these areas will actually occur before then. It is important that Midwesterners continue to encourage their elected officials to keep pressing China to follow through with these agreements.
It is clear from President Hu’s meeting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates that China’s military continues to be a cause for considerable American concern. China’s rapid progress toward the development of stealth technology in its air forces (including a recent test flight by a prototype fighter aircraft) and the expansion of its modern, nuclear-powered submarine fleet threaten to erode the margin of American military dominance. Like many other non-democratic states, China’s military also seems to be affected as much by internal political infighting as by external, geostrategic factors. Recent growth in Chinese military capability, combined with the potential for instability inherent in Communist-led militaries (especially as a transition of power approaches), is an important trend for American policymakers to consider.
On the issue of human rights, President Hu admitted that “a lot still needs to be done in China, in terms of human rights.” This admission is the first of its kind from China and represents a large step forward for America’s interest in China’s human rights. This too, however, is limited in practical value, because across China this admission was omitted from televised presentations of the press conference and omitted from newsprint as well. Such censorship is a glaring fault against China’s Communist leadership and demonstrates just how far away the Chinese nation remains from tasting true liberty.
Bilateral commerce was yet another topic of discussion. China has made it increasingly hard for U.S. companies to do business in China—and even to do business here on U.S. soil by flooding the market with cheap goods. China’s regulatory compliance has made it extremely difficult for U.S. business to thrive in China and to compete with the major state-owned enterprises (or SOEs) in China, which seemingly conspire to demolish competition. SOEs themselves constitute another large issue, exhibiting tremendous influence over the Chinese government and generally failing to adhere to WTO rules as required. China must relax its own regulations and must start to abide by WTO requirements consistently.
During his meeting with the U.S.-China Business Council and the National Committee on United States-China Relations, President Hu commented that our nations have never shared more common interests or shouldered more responsibilities together, especially in the Asia region. President Obama suggested a means of pressing China and using this as a point of leverage, stating, “Opening new markets to American products [is] how we’ll create jobs today.” And do we need it. The $45 billion trade agreement the Presidents agreed upon will not shrink our trade deficit with China, which stands at an enormous $250 billion. President Obama and his administration must continue to press Beijing on this issue.
On the last day of his visit, President Hu promised that he is looking forward to closer ties and trust with the United States on a spectrum of global issues. His promise of cooperation is a good sign that our nations will be able to work together—at least, on some issues, until 2012 when President Hu leaves office. The state visit was adjourned on the note that there are still major economic differences between the two nations, but there are signs that some of these will continue to be negotiated. The summit also highlighted a few domestic issues for the American government to focus on in the wake of the meeting. Finally, this visit highlighted America’s need to be assertive and aggressive in foreign policy. American “decline” is a choice, not inevitability. Instead, we must do what Americans have always done: roll up our sleeves and go to work on these issues, always negotiating from a position of strength and forcing political systems with interests antithetical to American interests to adapt to us, instead of the reverse.
Todd Searle is a PAI Contributing Fellow for East Asian Affairs.