Hu’s on First? Key US-China Summit Ahead


obama hu flickr.jpgDuring the 2008 presidential election, Hillary Clinton took a very tough line on China — arguing then that President George W. Bush should boycott the Beijing Olympics opening ceremonies because of China’s policies on Tibet and Darfur. My response to then presidential candidate Clinton was that that kind of posture was not presidential — as she would simply raise the price for cooperation from China on everything international, environmental, and economic the US was trying to achieve while at the same time doing nothing to actually solve the problems in Tibet and Darfur.
Fortunately, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave her China position a major makeover, and she moved to a much more realistic and productive position.
But US-China relations — no matter the posture that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton or Bob Gates would prefer — remain complicated and fragile.
On January 19th, President Obama will host China’s President Hu Jintao for a State Dinner at the White House. Zbigniew Brzezinski suggests in this morning’s New York Times that the visit is “the most important top-level United States-Chinese encounter since Deng Xiaoping’s historic trip more than 30 years ago.”
I agree with Brzezinski’s assessment and his argument that the outcome of the meeting needs to move significantly beyond “boilerplate.”
Brzezinski’s piece should be read in full — particularly for its quick recitation of the challenges that are currently facing the often tension-filled relationship.
But what is also clear is that Chinese leaders and citizens need to read this article as much as Americans do. Brzezinski makes the case that both sides need each other fundamentally — and while not having to ignore each other’s differences and warts, particularly Chinese human rights standards and US-style high-handed moralism and economic sector corruption, they need to enunciate a framework that commits to working together on mutual challenges.
I thought that this clip was particularly key:

The worst outcome for Asia’s long-term stability as well as for the American-Chinese relationship would be a drift into escalating reciprocal demonization. What’s more, the temptations to follow such a course are likely to grow as both countries face difficulties at home.
The pressures are real. The United States’ need for comprehensive domestic renewal, for instance, is in many respects the price of having shouldered the burdens of waging the 40-year cold war, and it is in part the price of having neglected for the last 20 years mounting evidence of its own domestic obsolescence. Our weakening infrastructure is merely a symptom of the country’s slide backward into the 20th century.
China, meanwhile, is struggling to manage an overheated economy within an inflexible political system. Some pronouncements by Chinese commentators smack of premature triumphalism regarding both China’s domestic transformation and its global role. (Those Chinese leaders who still take Marxist classics seriously might do well to re-read Stalin’s message of 1930 to the party cadres titled “Dizzy With Success,” which warned against “a spirit of vanity and conceit.”)

Brzezinski is right that America needs to acknowledge the fatigue of the Cold War and create circumstances by which it can reinvest in its domestic economy, jobs base and infrastructure — while China needs to beware the intoxication of its quick rise. (Here are some of my previous thoughts on “Beijing’s Fragile Swagger.”)
I know that the White House National Security Council team has been focused on putting together a serious China strategy and that an September 2010 visit by then Deputy (now not Deputy) National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon to Beijing laid the groundwork for a constructive pivot in what looked to be seriously deteriorating US-China relations.
Brzezinski’s call for a framework for the relationship to be embraced publicly by both leaders at this important meeting is on target.
Stay tuned to the China channel this month.
— Steve Clemons


8 comments on “Hu’s on First? Key US-China Summit Ahead

  1. Bill R. says:

    Steve, please give us your informed predictions for this summit.


  2. Don Bacon says:

    China just gave the US a minor hit, appointing South Africa to join the BRIC countries, which will now be known as BRICS (Brazil-Rusia-India-China-SouthAfrica), according to Asia Times.
    Goldman Sachs, which dreamed up the BRIC appellation in 2001 and has promoted it since, predicted that the combined economies of the BRIC would surpass the current economic leaders by 2050. Last month Goldman recommended that US ally and China neighbor South Korea be appointed, not South Africa.
    The next BRIC summit – or BRICS as it will now be known – is scheduled for April in Beijing, where for the first time South Africa will participate as a member of the group.


  3. sanitychecker says:

    Steve: Your reply is correct, and precisely for that reason, terrifying.
    Happy new year to you, too, and best health wishes to your sweet dogs.


  4. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “….is not at all within the reach of the average US Congressman and many other political practitioners here”
    Obviously, “Top Thinkers”, one and all.


  5. Steve Clemons says:

    Sanity — thanks for your note, but this is one of those times where — as you point out — gravity works differently outside the beltway than inside. It’s not a comment on which gravitational system works better (yours is more logical), but they do operate differently — and what Brzezinski lays out, while seemingly commonplace in your mind, is not at all within the reach of the average US Congressman and many other political practitioners here. There is a huge amount of demonizing that characterizes DC political activity across the board, not just in foreign policy. What Brzezinski proposes, in adult fashion, is important, sensible, and designed to be read by the President….who has to find ways to knock back the less reasonable parts of the political establishment here.
    All best to you for the new year,


  6. JohnH says:

    Great comment sanitychecker! The dimness of the bulbs inside the beltway never ceases to amaze. These folks can’t even figure out why we’re in Afghanistan or Iraq. Yet they have the audacity to propose policy towards China!
    Personally, I’m not worried about demonizing of China. The elites have found that they can conjure up phantom bogeymen (terrorists) that scare the American people just as much as real ones. And when there’s a shortage, the FBI just goes in an nurtures one to provide scary headlines on demand at the right moment, as the Portland, OR case shows.


  7. sanitychecker says:

    Establishment foreign policy discussion never ceases to amaze me by it unique ability to dress up platitudes as insight. I don’t know any other field of inquiry that delivers such drivel and yet refers to its practitioners as “intellectual titans.”
    Here we’re told Chinese leaders should read Brzezinski’s piece, because presumably they will learn something new. Clemons highlights 3 key points they’ll have never heard before:
    1. Demonizing is bad.
    2. US infrastructure sucks.
    3. Don’t be cocky.
    The point is, I guess, that Chinese leaders might have thought otherwise:
    1. Let’s demonize each other. Always works.
    2. US infrastructure is tops. Especially New Orleans levees.
    3. Let’s swagger Texas-style!
    Thank God Brzezinski set them straight. My point is not just to be sarcastic. It is to point out a mystery. The field of foreign affairs in fact lends itself to original, insightful thinking. But establishment thinking invariably produces middle school-level patronizing sermons aimed at the 12-year old set. (Surprised that
    Brzezinski left out the part about jaw-jaw being better than war-war.)


  8. Don Bacon says:

    “Brzezinski’s call for a framework for the relationship to be embraced publicly by both leaders at this important meeting is on target.”
    That’s right.
    China has high hopes for President Hu’s visit starting Jan 19 — “a new era”:
    BEIJING, Dec. 23 (Xinhua) — China and the United States are in close touch for Chinese President Hu Jintao’s state visit to the U.S. in January, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Thursday.
    Jiang said President Hu’s visit will be a major event of the China-U.S. relations in the new era, and China hopes the visit could further push forward the positive, cooperative and comprehensive China-U.S. relations. (end report)
    And so does the US:
    (news report)”Hu’s visit will highlight the importance of expanding cooperation between the US and China on bilateral, regional and global issues, as well as the friendship between the peoples of our two countries,” the White House said in an online statement. “The president looks forward to welcoming Hu to Washington to continue building a partnership that advances our common interests and addresses our shared concerns.”(end report)
    But Washington will be in turmoil as the 112th Congress attempts to overturn Obamacare, agitates about raising the debt ceiling, starts oversight hearings and works on the budget. The FY11 budget hasn’t been finalized yet and the statutory deadline for submitting the FY12 budget to Congress is the first Monday in February. The President’s State of the Union speech is normally delivered before the new budget submission, but the White House has been talking about delaying for a week or so the State of the Union from the originally planned date of January 26.
    Taiwan is an irritant:
    TAIPEI: Washington recently briefed Taiwan on Chinese President Hu Jintao’s upcoming meeting with US President Barack Obama. . . Yuan said that Taiwan was informed at the briefing that the Hu-Obama talks will focus on the situation in the Korean peninsula.. . .The ROC representative said he does not think Hu and Obama will issue a joint statement after their meeting in Washington. The two issued such a statement in November 2009 during President Obama’s visit to Beijing.(end)
    And President Hu comes January 19th.


Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *