Obama meets Hu Jintao

Chinese President arrives in US for four-day visit.

Question:

1. Is there something China really wants from the US right now and Washington is ready to give it up and vice versa?

2. Is there something China really wants from the US right now but Washington will not concede in any case and vice versa?

3. And perhaps a bit lighthearted question: When Obama meets Hu Jintao is it a meeting of two most powerful people on the planet?

Answers:

Drew Thompson, Director of China Studies and Senior Fellow, The Nixon Center, Washington, D.C.

The summit this week is mostly about optics.  President Hu is primarily looking for a summit which goes smoothly, cementing his legacy and setting the stage for him to step down from power in 2012.  There are clear differences between the U.S. and China, reflected in the considerable mutual mistrust in the relationship.  President Hu’s visit is intended to contribute to reassuring the U.S., but he is not actively engaging the American public or reaching out to them through extensive media interviews or town hall meetings or anything of that sort, so the impact of his visit on American public perception will be somewhat limited.

Both sides would prefer the other to appreciate their preferences, but China sees itself as a rapidly rising power and is unwilling to compromise on its core interests, just as the U.S. as the established power can conduct itself as it sees fit.

China is undoubtedly the largest country when measured by population, and the second-largest when measured by GDP, but it has restrained itself from asserting its interests globally or taking on global responsibilities.  China rejected the notion of a G-2, concerned about the responsibilities that it might have to undertake.  Furthermore, China’s leadership governs on a consensus basis.  Hu Jintao is arguably the weakest of China’s leaders when compared to Mao, Deng and Jiang who each consolidated their power and exerted considerable influence over the government and military.  President Hu has to maintain a balance between different cliques, as well as with the military, so his power is considerably diminished compared to his predecessors.

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