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Home > East Asia > 

Bush, Hu weighing each other up
Paul Lin
9/8/2005

Chinese President Hu Jintao is scheduled to visit the US this month. It will be Hu's first US trip since he came to power in March 2003.

Compared with former president Jiang Zemin's "graduation trip" to the US in October 2002, just prior to his retirement, Hu's trip serves as a beginning.

Hu's schedule has been changed five times due to his fear of protests by Falun Gong. The schedule of Jiang's trip had also been changed repeatedly, and was not finalized until one or two days before his departure.

Nevertheless, what is more important is the scale of the US reception.

For Jiang's first US trip during his presidency in October 1998, the question of whether it was a "working visit" or a "state visit" still remains unresolved after all these years.

Although Hu will enjoy a 21-gun salute and red-carpet treatment, he will not receive a state banquet. Washington therefore does not consider his trip a state visit, a point that US officials have repeatedly "clarified." But Beijing insists that it is indeed a state visit.

This has resulted in the unusual situation of each country making its own interpretation.

Washington knows that Sino-US relations are of great significance. So, since it has already compromised on many other issues with Beijing, why doesn't it make a concession on this trivial matter? Not to mention the fact that "face" is extremely important to Chinese.

The US insistence is believed to be a result of currently thorny Sino-US relations. In traditional Chinese culture, people are encouraged to try peaceful means before resorting to force when handling international or interpersonal relations.

But in the communist era, in which Marxism-Leninism is dominant, people resort to force before diplomacy, only stopping to see who has the bigger fists.

On the surface, China has been courteous. On July 21, Beijing announced that it would allow the Chinese yuan to appreciate by 2 percent; on July 26, it restarted the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons; and on July 28, it announced the purchase of 50 airplanes from Boeing.

But all these gestures have little significance.

The appreciation of the yuan was much lower than the US hoped for. No conclusions were reached in 10 days of six-party talks, and no one knows when the next round will be. As for the Boeing deal, to win the contract, the company on June 28 named its first advanced Boeing 777-200LR Worldliner after Zheng He, a famous navigator who lived during the Ming Dynasty.

Moreover, Beijing has obtained navigation technology used on advanced US missiles and fighters thanks to Boeing, whose commercial planes are equipped with sophisticated QRS11 gyroscopic microchips. The planes were sold to China between 2002 and 2003.

Boeing was later fined US$47 million by the US government for this action.

In contrast, China's military is flexing its muscles. On March 14, Hu promulgated the "Anti-Secession" Law, which is a direct threat to both Taiwan and the US.

The US did not take the bait, but then, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan and People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong responded by declaring submission to Hu during meetings earlier this year.

Flushed with this success, Hu is now adopting a still harder line on Taiwan.

That's why Major General Zhu Chenghu's threat of unleashing nuclear devastation against the US has not cost him his job.

It is also an indication that Zhu's statement is in line with the sentiments of the Chinese leadership.

Last month, China held an unprecedented joint military exercise with Russia in which Taiwan and the US were the imagined enemy.

Following the exercise, China signed a massive arms deal with Russia to further put pressure on Taiwan, the US and Japan. The smoke from the joint military exercise has not yet cleared, so it hardly seems likely that the US will regard this threat as a courtesy salute.

These bellicose actions are intended to make the US submissive, but this is hardly likely for such a superpower. US President George W. Bush is not likely to emulate Lien and Soong.

The problem now is that as China and the US have different ideas of how Hu will be treated during his visit, it is more than likely that they will each interpret the results differently as well. When the US declared that it did not support Taiwan's independence, China interpreted this as meaning that it opposed Taiwan's independence.

Even the biographies of former US president Bill Clinton and US Senator Hillary Clinton were revised by the Chinese authorities to conform to their own interpretations, so is there anything they would be unwilling to do in this regard?

People in the US are better placed to understand the situation in the context of these divergent interpretations, for their access to such information is not blocked by their own government.

"Patriotic" Chinese, on the contrary, can only regard the party's preaching as truth, with the result that most Chinese people believe that, in the face of China's nuclear threat, the US has no choice but to give in to all its demands.

This simply encourages the emergence of more warmongers such as Zhu, more exercises targeting the US, Japan and Taiwan, and even the hope that this might spark a war.

This will be of no benefit to the US or the rest of the world, nor to China itself. During the meeting between Bush and Hu, China should be warned not to encourage rumors and mislead the public.

But how can China move beyond this method of doing things?

Paul Lin is a commentator based in New York.

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