China’s Vice President Xi Jinping Visits US

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Context

 

China’s Vice President Xi Jinping concludes a four-day visit to Washington Saturday, after spending time with President Barack Obama and other top US officials. The visit was watched intensely by Chinese media. Xi Jinping is largely expected to become the next Chinese President in a power hand-over scheduled for next year. While the timing of the trip may have been awkward, it also served to show that the ties that bind the US and China are stronger than many had thought.

Analysis

Official Chinese media have been closely reporting on the four-day visit of Vice President Xi Jinping to the United States, watching the actions of the man everyone assumes will be the next President of China. Xi Jinping was a guest of US Vice President Jo Biden, who accompanied the Chinese statesman throughout most of the visit.

While the past few weeks were fraught with US-China tension over the Iran sanctions, the Security Council veto and Obama’s State of the Union address which targeted China in an unfriendly manner, the visit was very well received on both sides, considering. This was in large part due to the fact that the focus of the tour was chiefly on matters where the two countries are eager to cooperate, such as agriculture and economic growth.

Xi is widely considered a very socially charming personality with easy manners, which saw him in good stead while meeting farmers and agricultural industry-men in Iowa, where he also reunited with an old acquaintance, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad. The agricultural connection between the two countries is a key area of trade, with one in every four rows of soybeans produced in the US being exported to China. While in Iowa, Xi singed the largest ever single import promise of soybeans from the US, at $4.31 billion. The growth in demand for soybeans in China is being fueled by a growing middle class who are consuming more meat; therefore farmers are requiring more protein-rich fodder for their livestock.

While there were mostly pleasant exchanges during the Vice President’s visit, there was also a few subtle messages being sent between Xi and US President Obama belying the fractures which still plague the relationship.

Addressing business leaders at the US-China Business Council and the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, Xi was airing concerns about the new US defense policy, as well as touching on the issue of trade barriers:

“China welcomes the United States playing a constructive role in promoting the peace, stability and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region, and at the same time we hope the U.S. will truly respect the interests and concerns of countries in the region, including China.

“To be frank, it is very important for addressing China-United States trade imbalance that the United States adjusts its economic policies and structure, including removing various restrictions on exports to China,” Xi said. “This will help balance China-U.S. trade, stimulate economic growth and job creation in the United States and improve the balance of U.S. international payments.”

President Obama had directly addressed the issue of trade imbalances as well as China’s trade policy with Xi in their meeting, however Xi made remarks that he thought China had progresses significantly in balancing out its trade policy.

Awkward Timing

The visit comes at an awkward time for the US, as the political landscape is riddled with tension over the upcoming elections. Also, Republican candidates, particularly Mitt Romney have been hammering the Obama administration for being too lenient with China. The timing also coincides with the scathing remarks from US envoy to the UN Susan Rice, who said she was “disgusted” by the veto. “The international community must protect the Syrian people from this abhorrent brutality,” she said. “But a couple members of this council remain steadfast in their willingness to sell out the Syrian people and shield a craven tyrant.” These strong words were not re-uttered on Xi’s visit, however the underlying tensions between the two nations was still felt during his stay.

While most officials were keeping their language friendly during the visit, President Obama raised a few eyebrows by reiterating his State of the Union remarks about China’s unfair trade policy while at a tour of a Boeing manufacturing plant. This was just days after the two sat down for talks in Washington.

While the timing may have been awkward, it also served to show that the ties that bind the US and China are stronger than many had thought. The two countries are too mutually invested in each other to let the relationship crumble over relatively small issues. This visit by Xi Jinping may have been fundamentally a meet-and-greet for the leader-in-waiting, but it was really a testament of the necessity of the US-China relationship to both countries, despite its many fissures.