Hu’s on First? What to Make of the U.S.-China Summit

Should the U.S. fear the rise of China, or welcome it? When will China knock the U.S. off its No. 1 perch as the world’s biggest economy, assuming it does? How much leverage does the U.S. have over China on human rights, or trade, or…anything? Who came out better of last week’s “summit,” Obama or Hu? Here’s a sampling of opinion on these and other questions from across the web.

Leslie Gelb (Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy) calls Hu’s visit “the stalemate summit,” which is to say China came out on top.

“Obama’s strategy was to push as hard as he could, and he did. He needed Chinese concessions for a successful summit. Hu’s strategy was to resist as hard as he could, and he did, because all he wanted was a summit that did not fail. The Chinese side won this test of wills and power for two reasons. First, they had the easier bargaining position: All they had to do was hold the line, while Washington had to gain concessions. Second, Hu was in a far stronger position overall because China’s economy continues to grow in double digits, while the American economy remains troubled.” [More]

Matthew Yglesias (Heads in the Sand: How the Republicans Screw Up Foreign Policy and Foreign Policy Screws Up the Democrats) says “[t]he precedent that such visits should be big-time summits in the style of U.S.-Soviet meetings in their heyday and that major issues should be primarily addressed in bilateral foray is a bad one.”

“Embracing ‘the summit’ may seem appealing in the short term, but Sino-American bilateralism is a poor strategy for a world in which China will all but inevitably amass an economy larger than the United States’ in the near future. Our long-term interests are much better served by almost any conceivable decision-making process other than so-called G2 summits with China. The short-term frustrations of pursuing a policy of robust multilateralism should not distract attention from the urgent need to do the hard work. …

Noting predictions that China will overtake the U.S. as the world’s No. 1 economy sometime in the next 15 years, he goes on:

“In a world where America is No. 2, suddenly a ‘G3′ meeting between China, the United States, and the European Union looks appealing. So does the United Nations Security Council or a broad summit of Pacific Rim countries. Indeed, just about any multilateral forum would do a good job of leveraging the enduring advantage provided by our favorable geographic position and broadly appealing values.” [More]

Robert Reich (Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future) says “China is eating our lunch.”

“Here’s the real story. China has a national economic strategy designed to make it, and its people, the economic powerhouse of the future. They’re intent on learning as much as they can from us and then going beyond us (as they already are in solar and electric-battery technologies). They’re pouring money into basic research and education at all levels. In the last 12 years they’ve built twenty universities, each designed to be the equivalent of MIT.

“Their goal is to make China Number one in power and prestige, and in high-wage jobs.

“The United States doesn’t have a national economic strategy. Instead, we have global corporations that happen to be headquartered here. Their goal is to maximize profits, wherever they can make the most money. They’ll make things in America for export to China when that’s most profitable; they’ll make it in China and give the Chinese their know-how when that’s the best way to boost the bottom line. They’ll utilize research and development wherever around the world it will deliver the biggest bang for the dollar.” [More]

Nicholas Kristof (Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide) says that within China the “China-Firsters–-the Chinese versions of Dick Cheney” are on the rise, so America had better “brace [itself].”

“My take is that China is going through a period resembling the Bush era in the United States: hawks and hard-liners have gained ground in domestic politics, and they scoff at the country’s diplomats as wimps. China’s foreign ministry seems barely a player.

“Domestic concerns trump all else, partly because Chinese leaders are nervous about stability and about the delicate transition to Mr. Xi and his team two years from now. A Chinese poll has found that public satisfaction is at its lowest level in 11 years, and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao upset hard-liners by calling publicly for more pluralism (he was censored).” [More]

Democracy Now! hosted a debate on “China, human rights and the role of Washington,” between Sharon Hom of Human Rights in China and Marc Blecher of Oberlin College.

“[Blecher:] The best way to help political opponents in China is through quiet, back-channel sorts of operations. There is a very interesting outfit called the Dui Hua Foundation—I encourage the audience to google them and look them up—run by a gentleman named John Kamm, who actually have been successful in helping political opponents who have suffered mistreatment in China. But they work quietly behind the scenes in ways that allow the Chinese state to relax things in some individual cases, but not lose face about it. So, I’m wary of lecturing the Chinese state or of actually bigger shows of Western opposition, like the Nobel Prize, because I think they actually hurt the people who everyone is trying to help in this situation.

“[Hom:] I think the lecturing China is—I think it’s extremely important, what Marc is saying about paying attention to potential negative effects of raising the human rights issues. And I totally agree that the real issue is what to do about it. But what to do about it is, the starting point is what is already being done and what Chinese people are already attempting to do to reform and to address these issues. And it’s not just political opponents. It’s really a too narrow and an inaccurate characterization that the voices inside China that are raising issues are simply political dissidents.” [More]

David Rothkopf (Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They are Making) wonders whether this talk of China’s displacing the U.S. isn’t a bit overblown.

“Right now, China’s ascendancy is something more than a theory and something less than a certainty. The same can be said of the United States’ decline. The United States is still vastly more powerful militarily and economically than the Chinese and China has yet to step up to play anything like the role great nations must play in contributing to the global good. China has proven supremely self-interested and periodically contentious. The United States has shown a remarkable ability to reinvent itself.

“For all these reasons, it is just possible that we may someday look upon the Hu visit like one from a prior period of insecurity, more like that, for example, of Japanese Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita’s in February 1989 — which is to say we will hardly look back on it at all.” [More]

This post originally appeared on The Progressive Book Club.


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hELEN h1 months ago


Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara1 months ago

China knows America is the world's largest debtor and sells nothing much but arms. China thinks of USA as holding out a begging bowl.

Sue H
Sue H1 months ago

We Need to get companies to Stop outsourcing. Americans need jobs with living wages.

Paula A
Paula A1 months ago

thanks for sharing

Ana F.
Ana F7 years ago


Rose N.
Past Member 7 years ago

Thank you for posting.

Brenda P.
Brenda P7 years ago

This will be sad for all of us...Thanks for the article.

Geoffrey Y.
Geoffrey Y7 years ago

If Chinese young generation is no longer watch or follow-up Hollywood movies, US will not remain as the top World economic... As far as globalization, the US corporations are the most beneficial party in the "new" world orders. Who is the winner is very obvious?

Sound Mind
Ronald E7 years ago

Corruption used to run deeper in China under Communism than it ran in the US under Capitalism. Now the opposite is true.

Steven J.
Steven L Jones7 years ago

Every dog has his day. This is China's day but it won't last. They no longer have a hungry population willing to work for slave wages. They have an aging population with a dwindling supply of able bodies to support them because of the one child policy. Capitalism is deeply flawed. Soon all China's money will be worthless because it won't have any good investments to make. The value of something is not in the dollars it's what you get for the dollars. A home is home is a home regardless whether it costs a million dollars or a hundred thousand dollars. Money is an illusion.