Wide gulf remains between the US, China
Immediately after his state visit to the United States, China’s leader Xi Jinping headed for New York, as did his host, Barack Obama. Both men, and other world leaders, were in the city to address the United Nations General Assembly, which is marking its 70th anniversary.
At the state dinner on Sept. 25, Obama and Xi both offered toasts to the friendship of their two peoples, apparently with great sincerity, with Obama calling on the two countries to “work together, like fingers on the same hand.”
And yet, only three days earlier, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace had released a major study, “Perception and Misperception in American and Chinese Views of the Other,” which showed that the people of the two countries were far from being close friends.
The key finding was that there are “substantial gaps in American and Chinese perceptions of the basic traits and characteristics” of the other. “In general,” the study concluded, “mistrust of the external world on the Chinese side stems from educational socialization and media messaging.” This is academic jargon for saying that mistrust of the United States by the Chinese people is the result of Chinese government propaganda in schools and media censorship.
So while Xi as president was proposing a toast to friendship between the Chinese and American peoples, Xi as general secretary of the Communist Party was feeding the Chinese people a steady diet of anti-American propaganda.
On the American side, the Carnegie study found that Tea Party supporters demonstrate “very low levels of trust toward China” and advocate “much tougher economic and military policies.” However, it said, “the Tea Party is less interested in interfering in the internal affairs of China than other elements of the population.”
At the United Nations, Xi and Obama were both supportive of action on climate change, development and peacekeeping. However, there were also marked differences on other issues.
Xi declared that no matter how strong it became, China would “never pursue hegemony, expansion or spheres of influence.” This statement came days after he asserted on the White House lawn that “islands in the South China Sea since ancient times are China’s territory,” despite conflicting claims by four Southeast Asian countries.
‘It is people’s choice about
how they are governed’
Obama, in his U. N. speech, pointed out that the U.S. is not a claimant but urged China and other claimants “to resolve their differences peacefully.”
At another point, Obama said, without mentioning China by name: “You can try to control access to information, but you cannot turn a lie into truth. It is not a conspiracy of U.S.-backed NGOs that expose corruption and raise the expectation of people around the globe; it’s technology, social media and the irreducible desire of people everywhere to make their own choices about how they are governed.”
Only days before, at a joint press conference, Obama had told the international media in Xi’s presence that “preventing journalists, lawyers, NGOs and civil society groups from operating freely” are “problematic and, in our view, actually prevent China and its people from realizing its full potential.”
China’s National People’s Congress is considering legislation to control foreign non-governmental organizations, and Xi, in a key address in Seattle, defended such action by saying that China will “protect their operations” through legislation but that these non-profit organizations “need to obey Chinese law and carry out activities in accordance with law.” Of course, it is the proposed legislation, which threatens to place foreign nongovernmental organizations under police control, that makes them fearful.
The bottom line for China is the indefinite continuation in power of the Communist Party. Xi told the General Assembly that, as a matter of sovereignty, all countries have the right “to independently choose social systems and development paths” without saying that the people of those countries should periodically have the right to choose their leaders and their systems.
Obama, without denying the principle that people have the right to choose their political systems, deplored the “erosion of the democratic principles and human rights” in some countries where “information is strictly controlled” and “the space for civil society restricted.”
“We’re told that such retrenchment is required to beat back disorder,” he said, “that it’s the only way to stamp out terrorism, or prevent foreign meddling.” Indeed, the need to maintain political stability and fear of foreign interference are constant themes raised by the Chinese Communist Party as arguments against political reform.
So, despite a 21-gun salute for Xi and a state dinner at the White House, it seems, there remains a wide gulf between the United States and China that is unlikely to be bridged anytime soon. Frank.email@example.com Twitter: @FrankChing1