Hu’s Cancelled US Visit

From Martyn…

Late Chinese premier Zhou Enlai’s famous comment “There are no trivial matters in foreign diplomacy,” has proved accurate this week following President George W. Bush’s decision to postpone President Hu Jintao’s visit to America in light of Hurricane Katrina. It has also caused a great deal of speculation with regard to other possible reasons behind the postponement as well as bringing to the surface all sorts of wider diplomatic issues.

We have the simple ‘inappropriate during Katrina’s aftermath’ version, from the unlinkable South China Morning Post:

Yu Wanli, of the American Foreign Relations Study Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said yesterday it would be inappropriate for Mr Hu to make a state visit while the US was recovering from the disaster.

“As a guest, it would just not be good timing for President Hu to visit when President [George W.] Bush and his team were busy coping with the aftermath,” Mr Yu said.

Mr Yu pointed out that given the extensive preparations required on both sides to arrange such a visit, the schedule would be changed only in special circumstances. “But [Katrina] is like September 11,” he said, referring to the terrorist attacks in the US four years ago.

We also have the alternative version concluding that it is a worrying sign of discord between Beijing and Washington:

The postponement of the visit and helped mainland authorities save face. “While Hu Jintao was about to visit the United States, the two sides had different opinions over whether his trip was a state visit (America didn’t want it called a state visit, China did). So the postponement actually gives them more time to resolve their differences,” said Professor Chen, of the university’s Institute of American Studies.

However, Hong Kong-based political commentator Johnny Lau Yui-sui was skeptical the meeting was cancelled because of the hurricane.

“[Under the original plan], President Bush was to spend just half a day with Mr Hu. [I don’t see] how that would have affected Mr Bush’s relief and reconstruction schedule,” he said.

Mr Lau suggested Beijing had used Katrina as an excuse to cancel the meeting because officials were unable to resolve their differences over issues ranging from the status of the visit to China’s trade disputes with the US. He said Mr Hu may have wanted to use the added time to pressure the US and win more concessions.

“Hu’s personality is different from his predecessor, Jiang Zemin ,” he said. “Hu would rather wait than give in [to US demands], but Jiang would just do whatever he could to please the US.”

As President Bush grapples with the aftermath of Katrina, the White House has promised that both leaders will meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly later this month in New York.

However, it’s clear that that both sides have lost an opportunity to talk about difficult bilateral issues such as the Yuan, trade disputes, energy, China’s military build up, hum@n rights and Taiwan. Some mainland analysts have even gone as far as to say that the cancellation is a sign that Washington does not rank its ties with Beijing as importantly as it should.

Perhaps as a sign that the visit would not go down well among Americans at a time of increased tensions with China, Washington purposely played down Mr. Hu’s visit by steadfastly refusing to acknowledge it as a formal state visit. However, Beijing demanded full honours with all of the ceremonial trappings. The last-minute compromise involved a 21-gun salute for Mr. Hu and a welcome on the White House south lawn but no formal banquet.

The contracts prepared by Beijing, rumoured to be worth over US$15 billion, to buy US goods (including dozens of Boeing planes) will now be put on hold just as the politically-sensitive China-US trade deficit continues at a whopping 32% higher than last years already record-breaking figure.

Unfortunately, earlier predictions that Mr. Hu’s visit would bring bilateral ties to a new level have now been replaced with concern that China-US relations are becoming cooler than ever.

The Discussion: 21 Comments

I have to say, from my perspective here in the States, I think the cancellation of Hu’s visit has far more to do with Katrina than anything else. The death toll here is likely to reach 10,000. Three states have been devastated, including the port of New Orleans and much gas/oil infrastructure. The impact of this on the economy is likely to be significant. Moreover, it’s ignited a political shit-storm the likes of which the White House has never experienced. I doubt if they are capable of managing a visit from Hu right now.

September 5, 2005 @ 1:29 pm | Comment

Points well taken Lisa mate. I think we all appreciate the huge impact of Katrina, generally, on the US at the moment. My own thoughts are certainly with you all during this awful time.

Obviously, the last thing President Bush would want is to be seen taking part in typical diplomatic theatre (especially with the not-so-popular Chinese leader) as the country is undergoing a national crisis.

The White House, however, only planned to meet President Hu on the White House lawn and talk to him for half a day whereas China demanded full pomp and circumstance–this was the basis of the “state visit” or not “state visit” arguments. Therefore, I think neither side would have been happy with a post-Katrina visit for different reasons.

Also, China is a real stickler for protocol and it looks like the US won’t be caving in to China’s current garment export demands and this would have caused China to possibly lose face. Indeed, Europe has agreed to let in the 75 million Chinese-made garments currently piled up at the European ports on condition that they be subtracted from next year’s quotas. The Chinese side are, naturally, furious but that’s the best deal it looks like they will get.

My personal take on this is that both sides will, of course, take positives from the postponement and see the delay as a opportunity of furthering their own cause before the President Hu’s eventual US visit. However, I think the Chinese side will be more anxious over this than the Americans.

September 5, 2005 @ 2:08 pm | Comment

I’m also assuming that Katrina is the real reason behind the cancelation, as opposed to an excuse. From what I gather Bush wanted to meet Hu at the Ranch, which is considered a bigger deal than a meeting in Washington from the US perspective, while Hu wanted the meeting in DC (as being greeted on the White House lawn would be better for domestic consumption).

September 5, 2005 @ 4:38 pm | Comment

Dang. There goes that Hu cutting brush photo op…

September 5, 2005 @ 4:55 pm | Comment

The White House State Visit page for Kenya is the most recent state visit I can find… although if you go to the default page you’d think the last state visit was Poland in 2002. Way to update the site, guys. Anyway, Bush has apparently only hosted 4 state visits in 5 years, according to the White House. I can’t find numbers for other presidents, but I bet his dad and Clinton both beat that pace. Also, those guests were Mexico, the Phillippines, Kenya and Poland – a bordering neighbor, a former possession, a close African ally and a contributor to the Iraq campaign. China is important, but we’ve never been as warmly close to them as any of those countries.

September 5, 2005 @ 4:59 pm | Comment

Anyway, of course China wants the full pomp and circumstance. But Johnny Lau Yui-Sui is full of it. He says:

“Hu’s personality is different from his predecessor, Jiang Zemin ,” he said. “Hu would rather wait than give in [to US demands], but Jiang would just do whatever he could to please the US.”

Funny, I don’t remember Jiang being Mr. superconciliatory… for example, he insisted on the full State visit too, according to a former member of India’s cabinet:

President Jiang Zemin of China was twice invited by President Clinton to come to Washington for bilateral talks when he had gone to Seattle and the UN headquarters in New York for multilateral summits. Mr.Clinton thereby wanted to obviate the need for according to Mr.Jiang honours of a State visit in view of opposition in the US for a State visit by the Chinese President because of the suppression of the student protesters at the Ti@nanm3n Square in Beijing in 1989.

On both occasions, Mr.Jiang declined to go to Washington except on an exclusive, bilateral State visit, with the full state honours accorded to him as the President of China. Ultimately, Mr.Clinton had to agree to it and only then Mr.Jiang went to Washington in 1997, when full State honours were accorded to him and Mr.Clinton personally accompanied him on ceremonial occasions.

So, Johnny Lau Yui-Sui, how’s being a nationalist revisionist stooge goin’? You don’t happen to be good at Photoshop, do you? Because I can’t find Jiang Zemin!

September 5, 2005 @ 5:00 pm | Comment

sorry guys, I forgot the T word was in that post… edit that, will ya?

September 5, 2005 @ 5:03 pm | Comment

I just had a vision of Rove, Cheney and Scott McClellan dancing around on the White House lawn like “the Wickersham Brothers” in “Horton Hears a Who, singing in those menacing baritones:

“We’re the Wickersham Brothers!
We’re onto your plot!
Trying to talk to Hu’s who are not!
There’ll be no more talking to
Who are not!”

September 5, 2005 @ 7:06 pm | Comment

Frankly, I think it was good to postpone Hu’s visit. As much as I want the US and China improving relations right now, for a whole variety of reasons, Bush’s full attention -his full attention- needs to be on the aftermath of Katrina. At this moment nothing should be distracting the government from figuring out what monumental failures of policy and execution lead to the destruction of New Orleans. With the possible exception of sorting out the Supreme Court in a manner that is not poisonously ideological.

September 5, 2005 @ 7:54 pm | Comment

Yesterday’s (Monday’s) commentary on the HK-based Apple Daily also seems to agree with Martyn and suggests that Hurricane Katrina is nothing more than an excuse for both countries to cancel a visit that’s been problematic right from start. According to the commentator Li Yi, difficulties come from different expectations. Li quotes from Randy Schriver (sorry I can’t find the link to the report that Li mentioned) to say that Bush intends to make use of this visit to sort out some major foreign affairs issues with Hu, including China’s closer diplomatic ties with countries such as Iran and Sudan, as well as the growing hostility of China towards Japan. Hu, however, wants to make this as public relation exercises that will improve his public image back home – hence his insisting on a state-level visit and the taking of photos at the White House, etc. In my opinion, the deferring of the visit seems to be inevitable and it’s perhaps good that the Hurricane gives both parties an excuse to pull out of something that may turn out to be a disaster. However, it also takes away chances for China and the US to work towards issues such as the North Korean nuclear disarmament, bilateral trade agreement, the Renminbi and China’s compliance with WTO commitment. All these have a potential of affecting regional economy and political stability.

September 5, 2005 @ 9:40 pm | Comment

We all know that Katrina was the immeidate reason for the cancellation. I mean, it’s a bit basic to simply point that out.

From what I’ve read, however, it also looked like a welcome reason/excuse by the US side. China were pushing for as much “face” as possible with their ususal insistence on highly theatrical photo-ops, style over substance–aimed at China’s demestic audience.

Right until the last minute the Chinese Foreign Ministry were still calling the trip a “state visit” — angering the White House that kept insisting is was only a “visit”.

Anyway, I tihnk these disagreements over matters of protocol together with my personal opinion that US policy is becoming more hardline towards an increasinlgy unpopular China made the White House eagerly cancel the trip.

Lawrence Braum wrote a good piece in today’s SCMP, I go and get it.

September 5, 2005 @ 11:57 pm | Comment

Lawrence Braum in today’s SCMP:

“The Bush administration – long distracted by Iraq, but now about to sweep that issue under the carpet – could be reviving a harder line on China. A democracy crusade wrapped with trade and currency issues may be in the works, and Congress seems to be pushing a similar agenda. On this trip, the White House may have wanted to shove some pretty hard questions straight into Mr Hu’s face.

Meanwhile, China’s protocol officers seemed preoccupied with formality over substance, to give Mr Hu “face”. A year of planning had gone into the niceties. A Peking duck lunch at the White House would demonstrate American appreciation of Chinese food.

With all their focus on the protocols of “face”, did Beijing policymakers catch the gist of what is happening in the Bush administration on China policy? In a recent interview with The New York Times, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spelled it out by re-labelling China-US relations as “complicated”.

In a sign of growing complications even after a year of planning, on the eve of Mr Hu’s trip, the Foreign Ministry was still calling it a “state visit” although the White House maintained it was just a “visit”. Maybe some face slapping – rather than face giving – was slipping into the agenda.”

September 5, 2005 @ 11:58 pm | Comment

Secretary of State Dr. Rice on China:

“The relationship is complex. It’s got good sides and bad sides, and we’re doing everything we can to improve the chances that this comes out with a China that is responsible and a positive force. But you [China] have got work to do. Don’t ignore what people are saying to you about the problems of a Chinese economy that is big and unreformed. Don’t ignore what people are saying to you about your military build-up.

“Don’t ignore the fact that you put on the books an anti-secession law on Taiwan that caused problems for everybody. Don’t ignore the fact that you have a human rights record that is not defensible on many grounds.”

Nice one. Maybe it was a good thing that the trip was cancelled.

September 6, 2005 @ 12:06 am | Comment

Thanks Martyn for the very interesting extracts. They help explain the background leading up to cancelation of the visit. The statement of Condoleezza Rice is particularly interesting. Ironically, whatever she says about the Chinese government seems to be equally true about the Bush administration (I know many of you Republicans may not agree with me). It seems both governments have some serious homework to do domestically before they can take on any more foreign orders, so to speak.

September 6, 2005 @ 12:30 am | Comment

Will – like any of that’s gonna happen!

Rest assured, anything the administration does vis Katrina and the Supreme Court will be dictated by political concerns, and nothing else.

September 6, 2005 @ 1:41 am | Comment

Hey Martyn, where did Condi say that? And have those remarks reached the Mainland, cuz I remember the internet boards lighting up with alot of racist vitriol for her… if they get wind of this, you can bet there’ll be a round two.

September 6, 2005 @ 3:20 am | Comment

Hi Dave

The Secretary of State’s quotes were pasted from the same article by Beijing-based lawyer Lawreence Braum. That’s from the unlinkable SCMP.

However, I Goolged a sentence and found the full text of the interview with Dr. Rice at the US Consulate in Hong Kong Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
With The New York Times
. Hope that helps. Thanks.

September 6, 2005 @ 4:30 am | Comment

Nice cut and pastes martyn, thanks for those.

I agree that it looks like America is adopting a harder line towards China….and why not? CLinton’s “engagement” policies gave us zero results. Beijing must have howled with laughter when CLinton was in Charge!

It’s about time that Bush and Condi started getting tough on those corrupt communists in Beijing.

September 6, 2005 @ 9:59 am | Comment

Condi is a class act, as per her above statements.

That link to the Condi interview at the US Consulate in HK website is well worth a read.

September 6, 2005 @ 1:51 pm | Comment

After reading the post and the article, I also believe it’s China who have come off worse from the cancellation.

Chinese chiefs love those pictures with the president. It allows the Chinese press to pretend China is a real world power.

September 6, 2005 @ 2:50 pm | Comment

Condy Rice is just one of the incompetent policy makers in Washington DC. As a national security advisor, she was wrong on Iraq and she failed to see that the entire war was based on hogwash and she keeps defending the war with cheap rhetoric that few in the world takes seriously. As a secretary of state, she bleaks compared to Colin Powell who managed Sino-American relations well. If Americans think they are better off with a bad Sino-American relationship, then they are obviously wrong.

September 7, 2005 @ 2:42 am | Comment

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