America and China
Pleased to meet you
Nov 16th 2009 | BEIJING
Barack Obama’s trip to China may encourage a warming of relations
MUTUAL suspicion and mutual attraction are powerful and competing forces in the relationship between China and America. President Barack Obama hopes his first visit to China, which began on Sunday November 15th, will enable the two countries to work more closely on global problems, from climate change to the economy. His hosts appear to agree, but misgivings are still abundant.
Mr Obama began his trip in Shanghai, China’s financial capital. Part of his mission was to reassure city leaders that America would be an enthusiastic participant in the World Expo which is due to be held there next year. The American government—as is its custom for such events—will not pay for a pavilion. Corporate sponsorship has been proving hard to drum up in these troubled economic times. To help the effort, America’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who is travelling with Mr Obama, paid a visit to the half-built pavilion. The leader of America’s pavilion committee, Jose Villarreal, introduced her by saying she would “personally build the pavilion brick by brick if she had to”.
Such rhetoric may help to dispel what could have become a dark cloud over the relationship (China regards putting on the World Expo as something akin to staging the Olympic Games, and would have been deeply resentful of any sign of American diffidence). But Mr Obama still has to tread carefully during his trip, which ends on Wednesday. He has to balance his desire to secure China’s co-operation on global matters against demands at home that he takes China to task over issues such as human rights and trade.
这种措辞或许会有利于驱散可能笼罩双边关系的阴云（中国将上海世博会与北京奥运会放在同等的高度，如果美国对世博会表现出缺乏信心就很可能惹中国生气）。但是奥巴马总统此行访华（周三结束）还是得谨慎行事。一方面，奥巴马总统得努力争取中国再国际事务上的合作，另一方面，他还得照顾到美国国内对他的要求 — 促使中国妥善处理人权及贸易问题。
Mr Obama’s delicate approach was evident during his first high-profile engagement in China—what was billed as a “town hall” meeting with young people in Shanghai. China apparently had few qualms about limiting Mr Obama’s audience for this event. It was not relayed live on national television, and only shown in ropey quality on the internet (though it could still be watched in China on the White House’s website). But China kept in place its block on Facebook, a social-networking site on which the White House invited internet users to join a live discussion of the meeting.
In his answers to politely put questions from an audience carefully selected by Chinese officials, Mr Obama avoided direct criticism of China’s government. He spoke at some length about the merits of internet freedom and of how the internet could change China’s “status quo”. But he made no mention of China’s denial since July of internet access to millions of its people in the strife-torn far western region of Xinjiang.
Mr Obama’s comments on human rights focused more on how America had benefitted from respecting them (albeit imperfectly) than China had suffered from violating them. He said freedom of expression, worship, access to information and of religion were “universal rights” that should be available to everyone “whether they are in the United States, China or any nation.”
In Beijing, where he is set to meet Chinese leaders and tour historical sites, Mr Obama is likely to be just as cautious. Although there is little expectation now of a detailed global agreement on climate change at a UN conference in Copenhagen in December, Mr Obama is still eager to present a more united front with China on global warming. Signs that China is taking the problem seriously could help him to get climate-change legislation through Congress. Mr Obama also wants to cool tensions over trade. China has been accusing America of imposing protectionist tariffs on some of its products, while many American politicians are resentful of what they see as Chinese efforts to boost exports by manipulating its currency. The president will probably avoid repeating such accusations in public.
Mr Obama’s central message is that China should not view America as a threat, no matter what its grievances over American policy toward Taiwan, Tibet or human rights. Mr Obama told the audience in Shanghai that America did not want to contain China’s rise, nor impose any particular system of government on it. He avoided, however, saying how he would handle America’s arms sales to Taiwan, a critical point of contention that—however much America may wish otherwise—China is not ready to ignore.