Xi Jinping's state visit to the US: an objective analysis


Many people would say that US-China government relations is the most important bilateral relationship in the first part of the 21st century.  Consequently, Chinese President Xi Jinping's first state visit to the US (September 22-28) and summit meeting with President Obama is one of the most important diplomatic events in 2015.  The expected publicity and hoopla was drowned out to some extent by the Pope's visit at the same time, understandably.  However, while Xi's visit was overall productive, he got a decidedly mixed reception on the US side.  For example, the US Office of Personnel Management released a statement one day before before Xi's arrival in Seattle that 5.6 million sets of fingerprints had been stolen from the US agency by hackers.  The culprit, while unnamed, was clearly implied to be Chinese.  The original announcement of the theft happened in April and so the timing of the followup story indicated a US effort to apply pressure on a sensitive issue just before Xi's arrival.

On a productive  note, Xi Jinping and President Obama announced an agreement that the two governments will not spy in cyberspace to steal intellectual property or corporate secrets.  China and the US will create guidelines and enforcement measures to restrict this new form of 21st century theft, a historic first.  The two leaders also released a statement with their common vision to address climate change with substantive measures at the global conference in Paris this December.  This was a good followup to the agreement a year ago on a timetable to cap and reduce carbon emissions.

These agreements were a bright spot.  President Xi and the Chinese press maintained a very positive tone on the visit and summit meeting, repeatedly stressing "win/win" diplomacy and the benefits of dialogue and cooperation.  However, President Obama and the US press, in contrast, raised constant criticisms of China's policies in the South China Sea, supposed human rights violations, alleged restrictions on freedom of speech, new regulations on US business operations and the implicit accusation of massive Chinese hacking attacks.  Republican presidential candidates vied with one another in China-bashing.  The difference in tone of the press coverage in the US and China was remarkable.  Apparently, friendship with China will not win any votes in the 2016 presidential election.

Why has the US mainstream attitude towards China turned mostly sour?  In the 1980s, when friendly US relations with China blossomed, US capitalism/imperialism saw China as a strategic counterweight to the Soviet Union and a rapidly growing opportunity for corporate profit with the expansion of the private market.  Today, however, China along with Russia are seen as the principal obstacles to the US goal of global hegemony.  And China's shift to domestic drivers of economic development has led to an atmosphere less comfortable for Western capital.  The stronger left in Chinese politics has led to a foreign policy with greater focus on building relationships with the developing world and renewing ties to working class organizations around the world.  China shows a greater willingness to assert its national interests and is less conciliatory towards Western countries with big export markets.

In understanding China and current events, it is necessary to consult both Western and Chinese media.  The US press usually presents information that is one-sided and out of context, with a negative tone.  For example, US mainstream politicians and press condemn China's increasing presence in the South and East China Seas, depicted as aggressive big-power moves.  It is seldom mentioned that China was dominant in these regions for hundreds of years before suffering military defeats during the Opium War, Japanese invasions, and the US Seventh Fleet moving  into the Taiwan straits in 1949.  China feels it is simply reasserting its historical position.  It is seldom mentioned that the US today is supporting the remilitarization of Japan and is engaged in a new military buildup in South Korea, Philippines and Australia.  While other Asian countries may have also have legitimate claims in the South China Sea, China is in part resisting the encroachment and pressure of US imperialism.

Another example of biased US press coverage concerns the "slowdown" in China's economy.  It is not clearly explained that the reduction of GDP growth rate from 10% to 7% is part of the central government's plan to change China's economic model to slower paced, better balanced growth.  This is necessary to address the serious problems of environmental damage, income inequality, exploitation of migrant labor and corruption.  Were there no reduction in GDP growth rate, it would show ineffectiveness in the planning mechanism.  China's growth will be increasingly driven by the service sector, consumer spending, expansion of social programs, environmental protection and value-added, high tech industry.  The shift away from reliance on heavy industry and exports is not yet in balance with these rising  production forces.  That this huge transition to a "new normal" has met with some difficulties is not surprising, the question is whether the government will learn to deal with the problems.  Watching the economic statistics in the coming period will be fascinating.   

China's new economic model is part of a "left" shift in politics which is placing greater emphasis on socialist values and has less tolerance for the spread of bourgeois culture and influences in the nonpublic sector.  China is strengthening the role of the State Owned Enterprises and de-emphasizing reliance on foreign direct investment.  These are reasons that US capitalism/imperialism portrays China's new policies in a negative manner. 

However, sectors of US capital still do emphasize cooperation and a soft-power approach to influencing Beijing's policies.  For example, when Xi was visiting Seattle, a deal was announced where China will buy 300 civilian aircraft from Boeing valued at $38 billion.  Apple sells more iphones in China than anywhere else and Microsoft is maneuvering to increase business in China.  Many US corporations are still eager to do business in China and thus want normal relations, not confrontation. They say that the spread of Western ideas about democracy and human rights will bring about political change.  Thus Obama's ambivalence, on the one hand granting Xi the highest level state visit, while on the other hand raising numerous criticisms and points of difference.  

In conclusion, there is both friction and cooperation in the US-China relationship.  Regrettably, the US is increasingly seeing China as a growing obstacle to the continued US imperialist goal of preeminence and hegemony in world affairs.  With the trend now towards greater friction, will there eventually be military conflict?  China definitely does not want a war with the US or any proxy conflict on its borders,such as with Japan or Philippines.  However, China is also determined to maintain its sovereign rights and will not bullied.   

It is the job of the peace and solidarity movement in the US to work to increase understanding, reduce friction, and strengthen ties with the Chinese people and working class.  Defeating the Trans Pacific Partnership, which is an effort to isolate China economically, is one practical task.  Supporting the Japanese people's powerful movement to stop Prime Minister Abe's militaristic policies is another.  Keeping the peace in the Western Pacific and East Asia is an important part of working towards a multi-polar, more democratic world in our times.

Duncan McFarland is a teacher and scholar activist at the Center for Marxist Studies in Cambridge, MA. He is an active member of the US-China Friendship Association who has traveled widely in China and is conversant with the Chinese press and other Chinese sources.

Photo: US Secretary of State John Kerry with China's President Xi Jinping July 2014.  US Department of State/Public domain


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  • I think Xi also came out well in terms of world opinion and respect from the nations of the world by cooperating despite the disrespect, war mongering and military escalation and economic exclusion. I hope writers for the Peoples World take the content in mind in providing more coverage 21st century developments in geo politics.

    Posted by Rosalio Munoz, 10/13/2015 3:38pm (8 years ago)

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