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D. Michael Lindsay

D. Michael Lindsay

D. Michael Lindsay is a sociologist at Rice University and the author of Surveying America’s Leadership: A Study of the White House Fellows. He is also author of the acclaimed 2007 study, Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite.

Following Chinese precedent

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?

President Hu should follow the example of his predecessor, Deng Xiaoping, the first Chinese leader hosted by a U.S. president. That official visit occurred in early 1979 with President Carter hosting the Chinese premier at the White House, which included a state dinner and a number of high-level meetings. A few years ago, when I interviewed President Carter as part of my ongoing research study on senior leaders, we talked about that historic visit. I asked the president about their informal interactions--what they talked about when seated next to each other and when the media glare was turned elsewhere. He related the following:

I normalized relations one the first day of January [in 1979], and at the state banquet, Deng Xiaoping brought the subject up of Christianity....

He didn't bring it up when I was in the Oval Office or when I was in the Cabinet room....This was at the banquet at night.

He was a delightful person...and he said that he was very interested in my Christian faith because he knew that the heritage of the Christian faith in China had had a profound and beneficial impact on health and education [in that country], but he was very aggravated with...[Christian] missionaries. [According to him] they came to China and attempted to change their culture and live like kings and queens...

He asked me if I had any comment, and I said, "Well, I have three requests. One is...I would like for you to let Christians in China have access to the bibles."

And he said, "What else?"

"I would like for you to permit freedom of worship in China...and I'd like for you to let American missionaries come back to China. When I grew up, as a five-year-old boy, I would give a nickel a week to China for hospitals and schools, and the most famous people in my town were not the president of the United States, they were missionaries who came back to China and would travel around on their vacation time and come to our church. They were exalted like saints."

He thought for a few minutes [and then said], "I'll permit Bibles to come back, I'll try to change the constitution to guarantee freedom of religion. I will never permit missionaries to come."

That was in '79. In '82, he did.

Indeed, as soon as Deng Xiaoping returned to China after his state visit in 1979, the Chinese premier issued an order that officially sanctioned publishing and distributing Bibles among state-recognized churches. And the Constitution of the People's Republic of China (adopted in December of 1982) officially recognized freedom of religion for all citizens.

Hu Jintao ought to do the same, using unguarded moments with President Obama to learn about the president's personal priorities and then demonstrate real interest in meeting a few of those objectives. This form of relational diplomacy between world leaders may seem trivial in comparison to the important topics on the official agenda of President Hu's visit. But I am convinced that symbolic gestures of goodwill between leaders are the sociological WD-40 that greases the wheels for intense negotiations.

The challenges facing President Hu and President Obama are great this week. As Secretary Clinton acknowledged last week, "Distrust lingers on both sides." Nevertheless, this state visit affords President Hu a unique opportunity to demonstrate a Chinese commitment to forging closer ties with the United States. He must first earn the confidence of President Obama. Following Chinese precedent, that will begin with honest, direct communication between the two leaders and a few symbolic gestures that point to the possibility for greater cooperation in the years ahead.

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By D. Michael Lindsay

 |  January 19, 2011; 10:30 AM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Government leadership , Political leadership , Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Hu Jintao's classic dilemma | Next: Mutual understanding


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Having ignored endless entreaties from US Presidents, treasury secretaries and secretaries of State from Clinton presidency to Obama’s until now, President Hu is NOT going to heed any advice from any American on US-China relations.

China has continued its mercantilist trade policies with ever increasing trade surpluses and forex reserves ignoring all such entreaties. And US businesses are as much at fault as Chinese policies for such one way trade because they are hooked to huge profits that cheap Chinese products generate for them.

China has continued to prop up North Korean regime despite all the US entreaties against it.

China has continued to trade with Iran despite all the US entreaties against it.

US is whistling in the wind if it can advise China to bend on such issues when China has its own priorities about them. Bent on replacing US as super power, China could care less about such advice.

To use old Rooseveltian adage, Chinese President ‘spoke softly but carried a big stick’ during his US visit.

China’s rise to super power status to challenge US is a fitting monument to the much-celebrated foresight of Nixon-Kissinger to embrace China to counter Soviet Union in 1972 just as 9/11 attacks is a fitting monument to Reagan embrace of Islamic fundamentalists to counter Soviet Union in 1980s Afghanistan.

Posted by: martymartel3 | January 22, 2011 10:09 AM
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President Hu will struggle immensely to develop a positive political climate, simply because the reputation of China towards the U.S. has been one of threatening, not healthy, economic competition. It has been one of rumored human rights atrocities, not activism. Of more intelligent, hard-working students and workforce, of more governmental censoring and control. America is more nervous than excited about the upcoming Chinese ascent into dominating power. President Hu's job is almost impossible. He has currently side-stepped issues of religious freedom and human rights violations during talks. But to admit them and to talk about them openly, is to risk the American public to focus and criticize him further. The tense talks can never be completely defused by talking about controversial issues (at least on a public forum) but to create a sense of togetherness by focusing on a problem that both China and the U.S. face. It would be akin to how the Allies during WWII formed; not out of discussing controversial issues, but setting those issues aside and focusing on solving a problem together. For example, addressing pollution, and working towards creating better energy standards will not only be seen favorably by Americans, but will begin to improve Chinese economic credibility.

Posted by: alexyoung | January 21, 2011 2:56 PM
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In politics, indeed in both American and Chinese politics, many of the policies and attitudes established are products of personal passions and interests. Much, then, could be accomplished by a mutual understanding of the interests and, especially, the underlying politics behind President Obama and President Hu. And as Dr. Lindsay points out, gestures of symbolic goodwill are a good start.

But these relations are mutual, and understanding must exist on both sides. President Hu cannot be expected to simply acquiesce to American demands. Given the lens of accountability American citizens attach to their government which the Chinese government lacks, the political reality is that President Hu should take the initiative in this exchange of goodwill, true. But presidents are more symbolic than perceived, as undue credit and discredit accrue. Undoubtedly, President Hu is as subject to the intense, highly personal internal politics of the CCP as President Obama is to Washington partisanship. Realization of these motivating realities will be a step in the right direction for a more trusting, cooperative relationship.

Posted by: JustinNg | January 21, 2011 2:48 PM
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The current and evident hostility between Chinese and American political leaders stems from far more than the current idea that America continues to grow further in debt to China's economic might; additionally, cultural differences can also not be presented as the primary reason for the present tensions. True reasons behind these unfortunate disagreements lies instead in the United States' continued grasp of its permanent state of war which has existed since the Cold War; though this concept has been previously responsible for propelling the economy and boosting public morale, it has become clear that this approach has triggered the resentment of many other countries in the world. In terms of US-China relations, letting go of some of this mentality may in fact be the key to better relations. Such actions from the United States would do a substantial amount of good in helping to alleviate these disagreements.

However, this does not mean that China and President Hu should do absolutely nothing to change their behavior and attitude towards the US; their blatant refusal to compromise and lack of willingness to accept other ideas have led to undeniable roadblocks in negotiations on a variety of issues. For both sides, a step away from a superiority complex would contribute to solving many problems in the world today.

Posted by: AngelaGuo | January 21, 2011 2:31 PM
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Any relationship in its infantile stages requires tremendous attention to the opposite's cues--both verbal and nonverbal. This transcends the nominal (e.g the way one sits on the edge of his seat or rests assuredly on the back of his chair) and dives deeply into the realm of action that takes place when both parties are away from the table all together.

I absolutely agree with Dr. Lindsay that "symbolic gestures of goodwill between leaders" will provide the relationship between Presidents Hu and Obama the support it needs to reach full maturity. Perhaps the topic of greatest curiosity is what symbolic gestures will actually be made?

Fortunately for President Hu, his country comes to the table with an unofficial title of 'The New Landlord of the U.S.', as China now holds approximately $900 billion in U.S. bonds. This title is reason enough for President Hu to expect both respect and cooperation from both sides of his discussions with President Obama.

Though just one talk is not sufficient enough to secure a positive political climate for future U.S.-China relations, an open dialogue where each party actively hears the position of the other and acts with benevolent measures seems an ideal atmosphere.

Posted by: calebbrown | January 21, 2011 2:20 PM
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I agree with Dr. Lindsay’s assertion that President Hu should seek an opportunity to have a conversation with President Obama outside of the highly critical scope of the media. When the two men can speak face to face, perhaps they will be able to reach a common ground on some subjects and create compromises for others.
The best course of action for President Hu would be to proceed with his state visit with an open mind, and with tactfully prepared responses to the most pressing matters that stand between the super powers. American reporters prodded Hu on the subject of Human rights. When the subject was initially brought up, he ignored it, and only gave an answer after he was asked about the subject a second time. It would have served him better to directly address the issue rather than skirting the subject by avoiding the term “human rights” in his response.
Although President Hu could have done more to smooth out the interactions, the United States Government is on the defensive because of the massive debt that they owe to China. Furthermore, the current economic conditions of the U.S. leaves us at the mercy of China because of how badly we need help from them in our efforts to lower unemployment rates and reverse the general economic downturn at a faster rate.

Posted by: dorianhicks | January 21, 2011 2:11 PM
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I agree with Dr. Lindsay’s assertion that President Hu should seek an opportunity to have a conversation with President Obama outside of the highly critical scope of the media. When the two men can speak face to face, perhaps they will be able to reach a common ground on some subjects and create compromises for others.
The best course of action for President Hu would be to proceed with his state visit with an open mind, and with tactfully prepared responses to the most pressing matters that stand between the super powers. American reporters prodded Hu on the subject of Human rights. When the subject was initially brought up, he ignored it, and only gave an answer after he was asked about the subject a second time. It would have served him better to directly address the issue rather than skirting the subject by avoiding the term “human rights” in his response.
Although President Hu could have done more to smooth out the interactions, the United States Government is on the defensive because of the massive debt that they owe to China. Furthermore, the current economic conditions of the U.S. leaves us at the mercy of China because of how badly we need help from them in our efforts to lower unemployment rates and reverse the general economic downturn at a faster rate.

Posted by: dorianhicks | January 21, 2011 2:10 PM
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At the foundation of every strong alliance is respect and understanding. Candid conversation and clear agendas are crucial to the construction of a positive relationship between President Hu and President Obama, and more broadly, between China and the United States.

As Dr. Lindsay so aptly points out, big change can start from dinner-table conversation. Time out of the spotlight can provide Hu and Obama with an opportunity to connect on a more personal level to build trust. However, trust between two individuals (albeit powerful ones) is not enough to cure years of distrust between nations.

President Obama and President Hu should strive to better their relationship in order to deal more effectively and openly with the greater issues that divide our countries. If the people of both nations see their leaders working nobly and honestly towards some common goals and other compromises, then there will be hope for a future of goodwill and cooperation.

Posted by: kelseypedersen | January 21, 2011 1:58 PM
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I'd like to point out one of the most obvious reasons why Americans feel uneasy about the Chinese-- the elephant in the room: We owe China's government nearly 900 billion dollars, and we're nervous that they might might come to 'collect' their money. They have a billion more people in their country, and our distracted military may not be prepared should China turn hostile.
Perhaps they won't invade, but they have the upper hand as far as bargaining goes. It seems more likely that President Hu will be making demands of the U.S. Government to favor China than vice versa, as in the case of President Carter's relations.
If the new Chinese president is interested in easing tensions, he will have to bring this point out into the open and tactfully ease the worry we have about our debts.

Posted by: RobertZider | January 21, 2011 1:57 PM
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Due to his research, Dr. Lindsay provides a unique insight on the more personal interactions between national leaders. I think he brings up a good point about the importance of ‘relational diplomacy’ that may otherwise go unnoticed. These seemingly insignificant interactions that take place without the media are important steps towards building a trusting relationship between the two national leaders which is the beginning of creating a more trusting, fruitful relationship between the two countries. Willingness to take action for the relatively small, personal issues will go a long way as a sign of good-will towards the opposite party.

However, this personal diplomacy is only effective if it also carries through to the discussions at the national and international level. It is easy to take action for smaller issues, but for more controversial and consequential topics, it is important that President Hu treat them in an equally respectful and open-minded way. In order to maintain a trusting and positive relationship between the two countries, President Hu must be willing to consider the US perspective and vice versa. Even if President Hu is unwilling to compromise on certain issues, it is imperative that he takes the extra steps to communicate and be open about his intentions. This honest and trustworthy relationship must operate at both the personal and international level in order for it to be effective.

Posted by: EdithTeng | January 21, 2011 1:39 PM
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I agree President Hu should follow the example set by his predecessor, but only to an extent. These major strides were made 30 years ago and the distrust and fear still exists in the minds of the American people.
Regardless of political views or affiliations, Americans care strongly about their first amendment rights. This certainly includes freedom of religion. As seen through Dr. Lindsay’s interview of President Carter, China has made improvements in this area, however they are still far behind the American standard.
The most important action President Hu should take is expanding on the individual freedoms that are currently allowed in China, including freedom of religion, speech, press, and the right to peacefully assemble. America has an unfortunate history with repressive and communist governments. By adopting an important aspect of American ideology, the political climate would benefit greatly. Like most people, American’s are generally afraid of what they cannot understand. Restricting first amendment rights and the likes of which is a difficult concept to grasp as free-living Americans. The fear of the unknown that exists today would dissipate as individual freedoms become more prevalent.

Posted by: andieobermeyer | January 21, 2011 1:25 PM
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Dr. Lindsay makes a valid argument, that a personal and trusting relationship between the two presidents of our rival nations is important to fostering a more positive relationship between the nations themselves. However, I think that focusing on issues of national concern would be a better move on President Hu’s part than targeting the issues of personal interest to President Obama. President Obama will only be in office temporarily, and so focusing on his personal priorities may not help the US-China relationship if the next President does not share these values.

President Hu can take steps towards a more positive political climate with the US by making small concessions on issues that Americans as a whole care about. In fact, he has already begun to do so. During his state visit and talks with President Obama, President Hu agreed to strengthen enforcement of intellectual property rights for American products sold in China, and change China's “indigenous innovation” policy, which required that China purchase only foreign products that were originally designed in China. In addition, President Hu responded to American concerns about China’s hands-off policy in aggressive North Korea by dispatching China’s foreign minister to N.K, an action that prevented escalation and controversy in the country. Finally, addressing one of the most pressing causes of US-China tensions, President Hu also admitted to the fact that human rights in China could be improved, and promised that the issue was working towards resolve. By thus targeting the issues that Americans are concerned with, President Hu can improve both his personal relationship with President Obama, and also his image among our citizens.

Posted by: nupurjain | January 21, 2011 11:51 AM
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The truth is that there are no human rights whatsoever in Communist China. I practice Falun Gong and I know of a fellow pregnant practitioner who was put in a cell with a bunch of hardened criminals and was raped many times just for following her beliefs in truth, goodness and tolerance.This is the real Chinese Communist Party. The Governments of the Western World are aware of this and many more horrible human rights violations but choose to do Business as Usual because of corporate greed. Thank you for your consideration.

Posted by: jefforsythe9 | January 21, 2011 11:27 AM
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Some of the most productive negotiations occur in informal settings. If President Hu is seeking fruitful discussion, the best path is to embrace a sense of humility. President Obama and President Hu, leaders of two of the most powerful countries in the world, are accustomed to certain amounts of deference; however, if the leaders can temporarily check their respective prides, it bodes well for the talks. The US and China clearly have different stances on certain issues, particularly in regard to human rights, and oftentimes more polarizing subjects. It is important to avoid any undue emotions in these informal negotiations, and to evaluate each others’ positions objectively.

In order to overcome the lingering distrust between the two nations, the cultural differences ought to be respected instead of being allowed to create a disconnect. Though this almost certainly is more difficult in practice than theory, the mere attempt is an act showing good faith, and one which President Hu should consider. Transparency and honesty between the two Presidents is the most important element to these talks, and one that would be mutually beneficial if there is to be hope for better future relations.

Posted by: MarkBrundage | January 21, 2011 11:09 AM
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Let it first be said that the relationship between two of the most powerful countries in the world will not be fixed over night. In fact, as seen with the example of President Carter, the “problems” that each side sees with the other have to be addressed in settings that appeals to both leaders. When persuading someone to make changes to how they run their own country, there is a fine line between being too pushy and being too relaxed.

As stated by President Carter, when Deng Xiaoping came to visit America in 1979, there had been many moments where the two leaders were discussing policies in the Oval Office, or in business-like settings. I find it important to realize that the place where the Chinese premier felt talking about this issue at a dinner. What I can infer from this situation is that the Chinese premier was not looking to need firm schedules of when he was to address this or that with the President, but rather he had felt welcomed enough to talk about important decision at dinner.

What needs to be recognized by both sides is that understanding of the other person can only diminish any distrust they presently feel. There is no doubt that each leader has been advised by multiple people how to interact with the other, however, when it comes down to it, there is only so much that someone’s research will show, in comparison to who the other person is.

In a way, while I know that the United States will do everything in their power to make President Hu feel welcomed during his visit, I would recommend that the Chinese president make sure he actually feels comfortable. It may take awhile; in fact, it might even be on the next visit. However, the most important thing that he can do is figure when he is comfortable. To rush into any form of relationship will only backfire, and any relationship built on distrust is a weak relationship.

Posted by: hkaitchura | January 21, 2011 9:59 AM
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It is interesting that it was Deng in 1979 who brought up the touchy topic of religion to Carter during the informal yet effective conversation. This conversation led to almost immediate changes in China. This example serves well to remind Hu to make this visit not only about the expected notions of promoting peace and collaboration between the U.S. and China, but also a time to agree on changes supported by America and socially advancing for China. Human rights is such an issue in the present time. On Wednesday night, Hu's admittance that China still has progress to be made in human rights gave the American public more confidence in China's take on human rights issues. While Deng and Carter used small conversation as a means of accomplishing reform, it is also important for Hu to establish a positive image to the American public in order to foster a positive political climate between the U.S. and China. Besides intimate, informal talks, Hu could start turning the American public's perceptions by being less guarded and selective in his words to the press. Additionally, an important point to note is that President Carter's personal conversation with Deng only had enormous impact in religious reform in China because it resulted in action. Hu should not be afraid to concede in the areas both the U.S. and China agree need progress, because only these actions signal a commitment to cooperation.

Posted by: mirandawang19 | January 21, 2011 9:35 AM
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Interestingly, one of the major points of conflict between the American and Chinese system seems to be surrounding religion. Carter is not alone among American presidents in dealing with this issue: in President Bush's visit to China during the Olympics, he made a point to visit the underground church in China.

To the point of this article, unguarded moments between the two heads of state could provide opportunities for real change for the better. After all, with the 24-hour news cycle and intense media scrutiny, the finer points of diplomacy are often subject to the winds of political caricature. While we so often point to specific formal policy initiatives (treaties and the like), perhaps it is the informal initiatives that can make a sea change in Sino-American relationships.

Finally, I think it is important to point out that the most personal connections can cover up some of the distrust and conflicting political goals that leaders of different countries may have. Forging a personal connection between the two leaders beyond simple policy initiatives could provide a framework for the two leaders to stand united – not just on the issue of Sino-American politics, but as the two countries ally themselves together against other issues (Darfur, North Korea, Iran) on the world stage.

Posted by: JonEndean | January 21, 2011 4:05 AM
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President Hu Jintao has a lot of responsibility on his hands. He must work hard to strengthen the currently tense relationship between two of the world’s strongest economies; though China, with its powerful defense and growing economy, seems to have the upper hand over the US’ damaged economy. However, President Hu has been known to be one of the more constrained leaders of the Communist era, lacking the commanding and personable authority of his predecessors like the charming Deng Xiaoping, who was once seen wearing a cowboy hat and a huge grin at a Houston, Texas barbeque. President Hu has also been criticized as being too formal and weak. When Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently visited President Hu in Beijing, tests flights of a new stealth fighter jet went off, causing some raised eyebrows, especially when President Hu gave the appearance of unawareness of such activity. With his ongoing visit to America, it is imperative that the relations are healed between the US and China to ameliorate the suspicious regard towards another. President Hu will be grilled on many issues, included human rights issues and the demanding currency dilemmas, but he must maintain, as Dr. Lindsay asserts, mutual respect and reverential consideration. He must reinforce his integrity and defend his country’s stance and not so easily succumb to America’s egotistical pleas.

Posted by: sallyannzhou | January 21, 2011 3:17 AM
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It seems overly simplistic that China should be expected to meet the demands of the United States simply to placate the domineering needs of the U.S. When the discussion between Presidents Deng and Carter occured in the late 70s, China was a different country. Today, it is fast rising in sectors of science, technology, and development; many social scientists and economists predict that China will soon surpass the United States in terms of financial power. That said, why must the U.S. assume its stereotypical arrogant stance in its relations with China? President Carter seems to have been flattered by Deng's willingness to take on U.S. advice; does the U.S. still have the same political and financial right to expect such deference today? (As of now, the U.S. trade deficit with China stands at more than twenty-five billion dollars.)
Furthermore, it is unrealistic to expect President Hu to follow the actions of President Deng in relations with the U.S. because, given other interactions between the two nations, Deng's actions were more of an anomaly than a true precedent.
Therefore, although it is true that China's track record with the United States is less than perfect, the United States must make concessions of its own in order to realistically proceed with its international relations. To expect President Hu to follow the actions of President Deng would be overly simplistic; one cannot truly believe that Chinese government will be willing to bow down so low yet again. At this point, China does not seem to believe that there is enough incentive to do so, anyhow.

Posted by: catherineyuh | January 21, 2011 2:08 AM
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From the perspective of the Chinese Premier, it must be difficult to deal with the more transitory elements of American democracy. Since Mao, the Chinese Premier has typically been a position that men would hold for more than a decade before they gave up the post. Obama can last no more than eight years and might see his time in office end after four. As Dr. Lindsay notes, Deng Xiaoping did not allow missionaries into China until 1982, when Carter was on his way out of office. Thus, it could be seen as a waste of time and energy to cultivate the good-will of a particular president when people are already beginning to campaign for his job. However, I would argue that the opposite is, in fact, the case.

Given that Hu Jintao and Barack Obama run the two most powerful nations in the world, it is essential that they work well together. Relationships, however, typically come from two sources: time and effort. Since Obama will not be around as long as Jintao, Dr. Lindsay's advice to the Chinese Premier is crucial: he must maximize the time the two men have together. A large, personal gesture could take the place of years of meeting at international conferences and official state visits. If progress is going to be made, let it happen now.

Posted by: Henry_Hancock | January 21, 2011 2:00 AM
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“With great power, comes great responsibility.” Although cliché, it is crucial that President Hu understand the gravity of the impression he leaves during his visit to America. As such, it is imperative that the leaders of both nations come to an understanding not only for their countries but also about each other on a deeper level.
China continues to rapidly grow as a dominant power on the world stage, while America currently the foremost power fears losing their title of the world’s superpower. The Chinese fear that America is trying to prevent their rise to the top. Though mistrust between two powerful beings is often the case, as the leaders of powerful nations both President Hu and President Obama must put aside their differences to find solutions to not only the economic crisis but in hope to various other crises for their people and for the world.

Posted by: NajiMcFarlane | January 21, 2011 1:55 AM
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Hopefully, President Hu will be able to follow in his predecessor, Deng Xiaoping’s footsteps, like Dr. Lindsay stated, in order to communicate with President Obama the high importance issues of human rights are in the United States, and in so doing, allow Obama to highlight the added benefits in his citizens having individual rights. Because neither side completely trusts the other, both Obama and Hu must find a mutual understanding in order to communicate honestly and effectively. Through this way of communication, it will unable both Presidents to share global, economical, and social perspectives. Although these two Presidents may often disagree on some issues, they must respect the other’s point of view. With respect comes a more positive political climate, which is in the best interest for China, as well as, the United States. Both countries wish to remain on good terms with one another due to the current rivalry between the two countries, and with a better relationship China will be more likely to bend to American views if President Hu wished to continue an open open dialogue with President Obama.

Posted by: meghanerkel | January 21, 2011 1:05 AM
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The first step President Hu should take to ease tensions between China and the United States is to emphasize the policies and values they have in common. The media’s attention to the differences between the governments of the United States and China creates fear in the United States public. While focusing on similarities is not going to change the underlying problems that cause the tensions it would create an atmosphere of greater trust and less tension. This would make it possible for the two countries to cooperate on common goals like energy security, and hot-button issues like human rights.

Any attempt to establish even a little trust would make working conditions easier for President Hu and President Obama. One common concern that China can point out is the threat of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Working on issues that the United States and China see eye to eye on can establish the foundations of a good working relationship. The countries can then move on to issues that are more controversial like economic policies and even human rights.

While focusing on commonalities is a good starting point, no amount of political skill or rhetoric can ease tensions that are based on China’s controversial record of human rights. As long as China rules Tibet with military force and terror, the world will be uneasy. As long as China doesn't grant freedom of the press, the general public will distrust the Chinese government. As long as China imprisons its citizens who speak out against the government, the Chinese government will be scorned and distrusted by the Chinese public and by other countries. China must make some key fundamental changes in the arena of human rights to gain long term trust from the United States.

Posted by: PlacidoGomez | January 21, 2011 12:57 AM
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In examining the tensions between the U.S. and China, many focus on the nebulosity and often obdurateness of the latter. As discussed above, President Hu does need to focus on transparency to ameliorate the strain that currently exists with the United States. There needs to be a sense of earnestness and mutuality in his contact with President Obama. Yet the notion of diplomacy inherently requires the cooperation of both nations. It is myopic, arrogant, and erroneous to assume that U.S. need not reassess how it handles relations with China. There is a need for greater transparency and sincerity on our side as well. There is a need for cultural and historical consideration. And there ought to be less of a focus on American interests (often portrayed as global interests). It is both naïve and fatuous to think diplomacy can succeed one-sidedly.

Posted by: colleenfugate | January 21, 2011 12:38 AM
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President Obama and President Hu should conduct their most sensitive issues in private and away from high profile events. In front of the intrusive reporters and prying video cameras there is unnecessary pressure for both Presidents to placate the media and the public watching it. There is no need for either to discuss issues that neither will back down on in public. For example, at the summit this past Wednesday, Hu initially did not respond to a reporter's question about human rights. Only later, when asked about his earlier silence, he blamed it on poor translation and then "conceded" that "more could be done in China in terms of human rights." While Hu could actually be sincere, one has to admit that there were not many other answers he could have given. Hu cannot say anything to anger Americans while on American soil, and he also cannot say anything that might show a sign of weakness. In China especially, the loss of face for Hu could have great negative effects on his administration. Instead, in public both presidents should focus on shared interests, such as their interdependent economies and shared security concerns over North Korea. These issues are less divisive and actually have possible resolutions.


Posted by: kaylaopall | January 20, 2011 11:02 PM
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Open communication and candid dialogue between the governments and militaries will help to overcome these suspicions. Furthermore, it will create opportunities to tackle the world’s most critical problems from the perceived mounting global economic crisis to other issues such as energy or sustainable development practices. Of great importance is the need to build trust and to find a way to move forward. Both bodies must work together to identify a way to unite in response to future provocative and dangerous behavior from conflicting world powers.

Reducing mistrust is crucial in building more positive political relations. Indeed, there are reported accusations in China that the United States is trying to slow China’s economic growth. Similarly, there are American fears that China is striving to overcome the United States as the next dominant global leader.

As with all issues, it is important to come to the heart of the matter. What has fueled these misconceptions? Once the fears are identified, they can be dispelled. While it would be unfair and paternalistically judgmental for the United States to expect transparency in all issues related to the Chinese government, it is not out of the question that the level of opacity that China is currently operating on decline slightly. Continued and expanded military-to-military exchanges would aid greatly in reducing and addressing misconceptions.

Posted by: sherrylin | January 20, 2011 10:02 PM
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President Carter's anecdote about his conversation with Deng Xiaoping presents a fascinating look at the informal interactions of world leaders which take place beneath the surface and often unknown to the public. It is often the impression of the general public that relations between heads of state are all very formal and set down in agreements and treaties. But this instance shows the value of those private moments in which the world's most powerful leaders can articulate their true priorities and personal opinions, without the spotlight of the media or even their political advisors. More significant than public speeches or press releases which use ambiguous diplomatic language are these kinds of moments - private, unguarded, and personal - which both leaders should take advantage of to disclose their views on the issues most important to them. Cultural differences may also hinder the kind of close relationship that the United States wants with China, but this doesn't mean that our leaders can't set those differences aside and show a willingness to hear one another out and compromise. However, as Dr. Lindsay's response pointed out, this may not be possible as long as there is still distrust, and while the glare of the media's spotlight is present. A line of direct and honest communication will allow both leaders to express themselves more openly and to identify issues of mutual importance, and then work to resolve them.

Posted by: juliaretta | January 20, 2011 9:37 PM
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It is in the best interest of President Hu to call for deeper engagement between the United States and China, but also to emphasize that there will be differences between the two countries that both sides must respect.

The United States can no longer conduct its foreign diplomacy with a post-Cold War, lone superpower reference, yet it seems hesitant to shake this mentality. The war in Iraq has proven that the U.S. will suffer severe consequences if it tries to conduct an overreaching foreign policy on its own. As such, President Hu needs to highlight similarities between China and the United States while at the same time making clear that United States interference in China's internal affairs will not be tolerated.

President Hu must remind Obama and his Administration that it is in the best interests of the United States - economically, politically, and socially - to build a stronger relationship with China, and that this cannot be done if members of the President's cabinet continue reprimanding China for its flaws.

Why should the United States dictate what is right and wrong to the Chinese? This is the same arrogant, 'we-know-best' policy that has alienated our allies and pushed our enemies even farther away from the negotiating table. President Hu must tell President Obama that China is willing to become a strong partner but only if the United States drops its superiority complex.

Posted by: mattwasserman | January 20, 2011 5:58 PM
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There are ways better trust can be established between the U.S. and China that are seemingly simple yet can benefit both countries. As Dr. Lindsay mentioned, off-the-record moments between President Carter and Deng Xiaoping led to a closer relationship between the countries and even positive political action taken by the Chinese government. Through talking about religion at a banquet, President Carter and Deng Xiaoping were able to discuss a policy change that brought China's values closer to America's.

For Obama to spend private time getting to know President Hu on a personal level is crucial to the establishment of a better relationship with China. Perhaps a Chinese policy change that connects American and Chinese values better would help strengthen the connection again, and cause trust levels to increase on both sides.

Instead of tackling the big issues immediately, such as discussing the military and economic threats China exerts on America, smaller value-oriented policies could be made by President Hu to cause a better relationship with America (so Americans can perceive China as more culturally relatable than previously thought). This way, both countries can move forward to work together on the big issues.

Posted by: lizpyoung | January 20, 2011 4:21 PM
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Having personal moments between the leaders is the true "grease between the wheels" that allow progress to be made between leaders. The state events are merely symbols that have little meaning to the masses. However, if the two presidents trust each other, actual high level agreements can be made that will bring the countries together. This shift can be viewed by the public and will ease tension.
The less at odds our public policies are, the more likely the people will accept each other. This all depends on the leaders' trust, and small moments help cultivate that.

Posted by: alexdobranich | January 20, 2011 11:55 AM
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One cannot deny the rise of the Chinese economy. Their growing energy and resource demands indicate a power on the rise as the Chinese ramp up manufacture. Still, American innovations are exported to be more cheaply produced across the pacific ocean. However, this outsourcing of production has lead to secondary, and eventually tertiary, developments in China. Perhaps ironically, the lower (yet rising) standards of living and wages in China's developing economy have led to an influx of foreign technology. Currently this technology is being replicated by Chinese engineers, businessmen, and industrialists, producing inferior or sometimes equal products at drastically reduced prices. How many times have you seen an iPhone or iPod look-a-like on eBay for a fraction of the price of the real thing? These products are evidence of a secondary developments in production as our inventions are reverse and cost engineered and then fed back to us. Soon, it is predicted, the Chinese will go a step beyond, developing new and superior products. America is a nation comfortable with its position as leader of the world, occupied for almost a century now; we are content. The threat of being surpassed is sure to put a strain on any international relationship.

Posted by: sheppatterson | January 20, 2011 11:49 AM
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The American people’s mistrust of China stems from two facts whose threatening natures are derived from two uncomfortable truths. These facts are China’s massive military and its position as the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt. These facts seem to pose an inherent threat to the U.S. but this is not true. Other nations have a substantial military and/or large holding of U.S. debt yet Americans are not distrustful of them. Russia is one such example. The majority of Americans do not view Russia as a threat despite its large military and past tensions. Japan is another example. Japan and China hold similar amounts of the U.S. debt. China holds 20.8% of the foreign share of U.S. debt and Japan holds 20.2%. Certainly Americans do not view Japan as a threat despite its significant latch on the nation’s capital. Of course, other substantial factors such as the fall of communism and the Treaty of Versailles help explain why these nations are not threats but they are not the whole story.
Another element should be considered: the element of mystery. These nations do not keep themselves shrouded in mystery as China does. While every motive of these nations is not made entirely clear to the U.S. there is at least a sense of understanding between them and America. This clarity allows Americans to fundamentally trust, and if not trust, then not immediately suspect these states as threats. The opaque nature of Chinese policy and its long history of mysterious actions, however, unsettle Americans. Americans are unsure of the intentions of China’s actions towards the U.S. and this breeds suspicion and fear. Additionally, this mystery creates an information vacuum which is filled with a few powerful images of China’s second uncomfortable truth: atrocious human rights violations. Countless imprisonments of Christian missionaries and political dissidents and repressive actions against Chinese citizenry fill American’s view of China. China’s harsh treatment of its own as well as foreign citizens lends credence to the fear, created by a lack of familiarity, that China is dangerous. This fear, which is created by China’s mysterious nature and given weight by its human rights violations, paints a sinister shine on the size of its military and its holding of U.S. debt.
If President Hu wishes to improve U.S.-China relations, he should release several high profile political dissidents, particularly Liu Xianbin, and publicly announce China’s commitment to curtailing North Korea’s nuclear power. By releasing political dissidents, President Hu will demonstrate that China is reversing its course on human rights violations. This will present a more attractive image of China to Americans. A public proclamation of support for curtailing North Korean will signal that China and the U.S. have a common security interest. Such an announcement would reassure the American people that China is with, not against, the U.S.

Posted by: DannyCohen | January 19, 2011 11:31 PM
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While it is true that a sense of hostility, or at the very least nervousness, towards China has developed among Americans in recent years, the Chinese economy is still heavily reliant on American markets to sustain its rapid growth. I believe that it is in the best interest of both President Obama and President Hu to begin to create a working relationship that can serve as the basis for economic and governmental cooperation between the U.S. and China, as well as a highly visible symbol of cooperation between two seemingly very different nations. I suspect that the establishment of a stable as well as mutually beneficial relationship between the President Obama and President Hu could act as a catalyst for the mitigation of much of the hostility towards China among American citizens, as well as set a precedent for other nations that are weary of China's sudden rise to power to seek better relations in an effort to promote globalization of not only our economies but also our technological advances that could lessen the burden that underdeveloped countries and even citizens of developing countries currently bear.
I see no benefit in the continued lack of conversation and cooperation between China and the U.S., the two nations that are likely to be at the forefront of all global advancement in the near future. As such, I believe it is in the best interest of President Hu and President Obama to begin to discuss finding a "middle-ground" on many of the issues that divide the Chinese and American people and their governments, so that the future can be one of reason and peaceful negotiation rather than one of constant hostility.

Posted by: DavidSims92 | January 19, 2011 5:22 PM
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