On Leadership
Video | PostLeadership | FedCoach | | Books | About |
Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

Coro Fellows
Young Leaders

Coro Fellows

As part of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs, these fellows are engaged in a full-time, nine-month, graduate-level leadership training program that prepares individuals for public-affairs leadership.

China and the art of communication

Question: Americans now view China as the biggest threat to U.S. economic and military interests. What leadership advice would you give to President Hu for creating a more positive political climate for U.S.-China relations?

The following responses come from six of the fellows that make up the Coro San Francisco 2011 class.

Bring your business cards...

It is a rule of networking to know the guest list before you go to an event, and I am sure that President Hu Jintao has been doing his homework for his state visit to the United States. U.S.-China relations are in an interesting place. China is flexing its muscles as the U.S. looks on suspiciously, unsure of what to think. The challenges that face this relationship were made clear with speeches by Secretaries Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and Timothy Geithner regarding steps that need to be taken before a positive political environment can be achieved. Many such Secretaries are likely to be on the White House guest list, along with influential legislators and potential business partners. So what should President Hu Jintao do?

Americans see the threat that China poses as a rising economic power in the world, and President Hu Jintao needs to emphasize our shared security and economic interests while reassuring Americans of China's responsible use of its influence over the world. This is complicated with the testing of stealth fighters, an alliance with North Korea and a not-so-hot human rights record. But a black tie party is definitely the first step to making a great relationship. Rubbing elbows with the Secretaries and President Obama definitely can stir warm feelings. Maybe Speaker Boehner will change his mind and decide to crash the party, bringing some tea bags with him. - Ikenna Acholonu

A letter to the president: Trust is the key

Dear President Hu,

Your upcoming state visit to Washington represents a prime opportunity to bolster a relationship of cooperation with the U.S. that reflects positively on your decade-long legacy as China's leader. Over the past year, media and public in both the U.S. and China have focused on areas of tension within the U.S.-China relationship, including China's human rights record, its monetary and trade policies, and its perceived "assertiveness" on the international stage. In order to create a more positive political climate, you must recalibrate the direction of U.S.-China relations by highlighting areas of cooperation and fostering the trust required to further the relationship.

China's rising global influence is increasingly being portrayed as a threat to U.S. interests among the American public. With a rebalanced Congress, President Obama will face increasing pressure from Republicans to take a tougher stance on China. President Hu, it is in China's interest to provide President Obama with the domestic capital necessary to address the relationship in a more holistic manner. This means achieving progress on high-profile issues like North Korean aggression and the value of Chinese currency. If you can help President Obama quell domestic fears, he will have greater flexibility in working on issues where fewer common interests reside.

The series of high-level dialogues that has preceded the upcoming summit has produced a cautious optimism with regard to the future of U.S.-China relations. President Hu, during the summit, you should commit to further high-level talks between U.S. and Chinese officials. The first step would be a tour of Washington by your heir-apparent, Xi Jinping, which would provide clarity to future possibilities and help to create common agendas. More importantly, such a commitment will build mutual trust between the American and Chinese elite, which is a necessary component of positive relations in the future -Amir Badat

Cheap goods crush the American dream

Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. The specter of unemployment continues to haunt American workers, as well as to occupy the media spotlight.

Why should Hu Jintao care about the availability of domestic American jobs? China has come under increased scrutiny for its practice of "currency manipulation." Politicians, economists and the media in the United States have connected China's undervaluation of the yuan and its multi-billion dollar trade surplus with a lack of domestic American jobs. John Williamson, of the Peterson Institute of International Economics, stated that the undervaluation has caused the U.S. to lose at least 500,000 jobs. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) recently stated, "The American dream is in peril," in connection with a bill being put forth that would place tariffs on exports from countries found to practice currency manipulation.

China is losing its opportunity to make amends with the United States and may become subject to increased regulation, with little say in crafting those regulations. China is also losing time as the United States, Japan and Brazil embark on their own attempts to devalue their currencies, which some fear may trigger a trade war that could negatively affect the global economy.

Based on the possibility of growing anti-Chinese sentiment over lost jobs in the United States, and of global economic instability from a trade war, Hu Jintao should prioritize issues of currency manipulation in his visit above human rights, international relations and climate change. Although these remain relevant issues, if he neglects to alleviate the anxieties of the other G-20 nations and set up concrete steps to address the effects of undervaluing the yuan, he may find his hand forced by tough U.S. legislation and an increasingly unstable global economy. --Alex Tran

Let's talk, we'll listen

Prior to this week, it had been more than two years since President Hu Jintao provided lengthy comments to an American media outlet. This scarcity of communication gives him a great opportunity: if he is willing to address them, the American public and media will listen to what he has to say. If he seeks a more positive political climate, President Hu Jintao should articulate to Americans his understanding of their concerns about China. He need not agree with these views, but he should publicly give them some non-defensive consideration.

Beyond this, he must also express a desire and willingness to explore the American point of view. A focus on inquiry, rather than argumentation, would be particularly well received at this time. In response to the tragic events in Arizona, President Obama and others have called on Americans to deepen their understanding of each others' views, to slow their leap to judgment. If President Hu Jintao sincerely seeks to understand American perspectives, then he can also expect Americans to listen more openly to China's position. Such efforts will not resolve concerns, but they could set the tone for a productive discussion. --Matthew Podolin

A dynamic relationship

The relationship between the U.S. and China is complex and constantly shifting. This appears to be primarily due to a lack of trust between the two entities, which stems from a basic difference in the foundation of principles each country operates on. When Hu Jintao arrives in the U.S. for his state visit, it will be imperative for both Obama and Hu to candidly explore the boundaries that contributed to the distrust and disagreements between the two countries in the past. However, I feel that Hu has not necessarily created an environment that will promote this sort of exploration.

His limited public statements and communication with outside entities contributes to China's "opaque" image. In his statements to the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, he only responded to pre-submitted questions and gave written responses, rather than speaking with an interviewer directly. By only writing statements and being particularly selective with interviews, Jintao presents a closed off image. This does not promote an environment of trust and open communication, even though those are values which he emphasized in his written responses. The very method in which he chose to communicate his wish to "increase dialogue and ...enhance mutual trust" between China and the U.S. undercuts his statement, because his selective and calculated strategy for responding to interview questions signals nebulosity. Trust building and improving communication is key to creating a more positive political environment between the two countries, but in order for this to come to fruition, Hu Jintao must take steps to communicate these wishes in a method that itself promotes trust rather than encourages an "opaque" image. --Victoria Benson

By Coro Fellows

 |  January 18, 2011; 3:35 AM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Economic crisis , Government leadership , Political leadership , Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: What the US and China share | Next: Looting intellectual property


Please report offensive comments below.

That term - "rivalry" - suggests that US-China economic relations is some sort of zero-sum contest. When in reality the U.S. economy can grow the most when China's economy is at its best, too.

True, there are plenty of legitimate complaints to be made about China: they don't protect intellectual property like other countries U.S. businesses operate in and they have held their currency under value. And China - just like the U.S., by the way - protects some domestic industries.

But the Sino-American economic relationship is nevertheless the opposite of a zero-sum contest. The global economy - and the U.S. economy - is on whole far richer than it would be if China's economy had never "risen." As Nobel Laureate Ed Prescott has said, "Global economic integration is the path to riches and peace."

President Obama and President Hu would do well to keep that in mind as they meet today.


Posted by: MyAIC | January 18, 2011 12:10 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Post a Comment

characters remaining

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company