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Instant Analysis: Reporting on US Presidents in China

A sampling of press reports of presidential trips, 1972 - 2009
November 20, 2009

Compiled by Clayton Dube
It's often said that journalists are responsible for producing history's "first draft." Those reporting on presidential trips to China face particular challenges. Many, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, are making their first trips to China. Jet lag, unfamiliar food, and the hothouse environment of a plane load of journalists traveling together combine with the usual pressures of trying to tell a story on deadline.

Administrations, naturally, try to manage expectations and trips are often planned so as to provide a clear narrative line. Once underway, cabinet officers and White House officials offer details and opinions to shape descriptions of what happened outside the view of the press. Most visits produce joint US-China communiques or statements outlining ground covered and agreements reached. But it is also clear that important discussions sometimes don't get reported for decades. Perhaps the best known of these was not a presidential visit, but one that set the stage for such a visit. It was only in 2002 that documents showing that in July 1971 US National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger pledged to Chinese Premeir Zhou Enlai that the US would not support independence for Taiwan.

US Ambassador Jon Huntsman has been critical of press coverage of Obama's visit. He told Chinese and American students in Beijing, "I attended all those meetings that President Obama had with Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao...  I've got to say some of the reporting I saw afterward was off the mark. I saw sweeping comments about things that apparently weren't talked about, when they were discussed in great detail in the meetings." He was referring to reports that suggested the president hadn't been forceful enough on human rights concerns or the value of the Chinese currency. Huntsman argued the adminstration had succeeded in achieving "a positive atmosphere" and would now focus on implementing the agreements reached.

First, we offer a sampling of press excerpts on President Barack Obama's 2009 trip to China and then a small sampling of coverage and response to earlier presidential trips. An exhaustive collection of excerpts is not possible here, especially for broadcast coverage. For the 1998 Bill Clinton trip, the media corp numbered 375.  Please note that editors rather than reporters usually draft the headlines for stories.

Obama 2009 Nixon 1972 Ford 1975 Reagan 1984 G.H.W. Bush 1989
Clinton 1998 G.W. Bush 2001 G.W. Bush 2002 G.W. Bush 2005 G.W. Gush 2008


Barack Obama, Nov. 15-18, 2009





 President Barack Obama visits the Great Wall< Nov. 18, 2009. White House photo.





President Obama returns home from visit to China almost empty handed
President Obama achieved very little from his three-day trip to China: on nearly every subject critical to the US he got virtually nothing from Beijing.

The trip, which was closely regimented by Beijing, far more than when Bill Clinton and George Bush visited the country, was also notable for how often Mr Obama asked for China’s help, rather than the other way round. He got almost nothing in return. By the end of the trip it was evident that the two nations were unable to overcome their differences on key matters, including currency disputes, trade, climate change and Iran’s nuclear programme.

That no main breakthroughs were achieved reflects the changing power dynamic between the two countries.
-- Tim Reid, Times (London), Nov. 19, 2009

U.S. in standoff with Beijing over Chinese currency
Obama's trip to Beijing proved, the days when U.S. leaders could jawbone China into making major changes in economic policy appear to be gone. Not only did the Chinese brush off Obama's appeals this week, they harangued the United States for its own shortcomings.

But the standoff in Beijing marked more than the changing balance of power between two countries -- one riding a wave of surging growth, the other still mired in troubles.
-- David Pierson and Don Lee, Los Angeles Times, Nov. 18, 2009

China Holds Firm on Major Issues in Obama’s Visit
In six hours of meetings, at two dinners and during a stilted 30-minute news conference in which President Hu Jintao did not allow questions, President Obama was confronted, on his first visit, with a fast-rising China more willing to say no to the United States.
-- Helene Cooper, New York Times, Nov. 19, 2009

During Visit, Obama Skirts Chinese Political Sensitivities
Whether by White House design or Chinese insistence, President Obama has steered clear of public meetings with Chinese liberals, free press advocates and even average Chinese during his first visit to China, showing a deference to the Chinese leadership’s aversions to such interactions that is unusual for a visiting American president.
-- Michael Wines and Sharon LaFraniere, New York Times, Nov. 17, 2009

In China, U.S. strikes conciliatory tone; Obama's trip stands in stark contrast to visits by his predecessors
President Obama has emerged from his first trip to China with no big breakthroughs on important issues, such as Iran's nuclear program or China's currency. Yet after two days of talks with the United States' biggest creditor, the administration asserted that relations between the two countries are at "at an all-time high."….

If there was any significant change during this trip, in fact, it was in the United States' newly conciliatory and sometimes laudatory tone. In a joint appearance with President Hu Jintao on Tuesday, Obama hailed China as an economic partner that has "proved critical in our effort to pull ourselves out of the worst recession in generations." The day before, speaking to students in Shanghai, he described China's rising prosperity as "an accomplishment unparalleled in human history."
-- Andrew Higgins and Anne E. Kornblut, Washington Post, Nov. 18, 2009

U.S., China in Strained Diplomatic Embrace
President Barack Obama was set to leave China ... after an awkward summit with some achievements but a long list of unfinished business -- a result that suggests challenges ahead for the U.S. as it struggles to come to terms with Asia's increasingly assertive superpower

The president secured a far-ranging framework for cooperation Tuesday with Beijing. But that deal was announced as frictions between the two nations appeared to increase over human rights and economic policy.

President Obama and Chinese leader Hu Jintao issued their ambitious statement on cooperation in a clumsy fashion -- at a media "availability" where they took no questions, didn't address each other and exhibited body language that seemed to say they had been frustrated by the entire exercise.
-- Jonathan Weisman and Ian Johnson, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 18, 2009

Obama Hits a Wall on His Visit to China
Barack Obama's first trip here signaled a turning point in relations between a weakened U.S. power and a China that senses its time has come, as the president was hectored about economic policy, largely ignored on human rights and restricted in his efforts to reach out to ordinary Chinese.
-- Jonathan Weisman, Andrew Browne and Jason Dean, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 19, 2009

Analysis: Obama's China trip shows power shifting
President Barack Obama's first visit to China underscored a shifting balance of power: two giants moving closer to being equals.

In this week's choreographed show of U.S.-Chinese good will, Obama's pledge to treat China as a trusted global partner won a return promise of shared effort on world troubles - but not much else.
-- Charles Hutzler and Jennifer Loven, Associated Press, Nov. 18, 2009

Also tonight, Mr. Hu, tear down that firewall. President Obama challenges China’s government to allow unfettered access to the internet. ...

Now to President Obama’s trip to Asia. In China today, he challenged leaders of the communist government to give people greater access to the internet. China is the most important stop on a tour that started in Japan and Singapore and will end in South Korea on Thursday.
-- Katie Couric, CBS News, Nov. 17, 2009

The Pacific (and pussyfooting) president
America’s president shows an alarming lack of self-confidence. So does China’s.
For some critics of Barack Obama, America’s dependence on China as the holder of some $800 billion of its government debt is to blame for what they see as a humiliating visit there this week. He preferred heaping praise on China’s achievements to hectoring its leaders about its shortcomings...

Mr Obama is surely right to try to build a relationship whose premise is the need for co-operation and partnership rather than the inevitability of discord and rivalry. Rebalancing the global economy, stemming climate change and containing the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea all require China-America teamwork and are in the interests of both countries and the rest of the world.

Mr Obama’s critics, however, are right that he could and should have spoken out more loudly for America’s principles and resisted more strongly the choreography of a visit designed to shield China’s people from his persuasive powers.
-- The Economist, Nov. 19, 2009

Related Documents: (Tokyo) Obama on US Engagement in Asia, Nov. 14, 2009
  Obama in Shanghai Town Hall, Nov. 15, 2009
   Hu/Obama Remarks on Their Meetings, Nov. 17, 2009
  Joint Statement, Nov. 17, 2009

Richard Nixon, Feb.  1972

Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao shakes hands with US President Richard Nixon at the conclusion of their meeting. National Archives photo.

The Presidency: Now, in Living Color from China
At last the three years of secret diplomacy, the seven months of public anticipation, and the frantic final hours of official preparation were over. The doors had swung open on a new policy of dialogue between China and the U.S., two world powers that had refused to talk to each other for nearly 25 years. Despite the President's repeated comparison of his trip to the Apollo 11 flight, Peking is too much a part of this world to be the moon, and a presidential jet is far safer and more comfortable than a space capsule. Yet this too was a historic adventure, an uncertain portent for mankind's future...

Perhaps the most intriguing assessment of the Nixon visit came early in the week when France's grand old man of literature, André Malraux, was a White House guest. Claiming that Chairman Mao is now more interested in raising the Chinese standard of living than in promoting revolution, Malraux called Nixon's overture "noble" and "courageous" and "vitally important to world peace." He too warned against expecting instant results. He told Nixon: "Nobody will know whether you're successful for 50 years." Replied the President: "I know that. The American people and I can be patient too."
-- Time, Feb. 28, 1972

Diplomacy: Richard Nixon's Long March to Shanghai
What, if anything, did Richard Nixon bring back from Peking?

Above all, the event itself, the fact that it took place. Rarely had a U.S. President spent so long a time—a full week—in a foreign land. The visit, moreover, was to a country with which the U.S. did not even have diplomatic relations and which for two decades had been a virtual enemy. That paradox was obscured by the pageantry and (most of the time) by the warm atmosphere. As summits go, the meeting was a glittering technical success, stage-managed with precision.

Until the final communique, his negotiating sessions with Premier Chou En-lai were kept entirely secret so as not to jeopardize the delicate talks, as Nixon later explained to the press. No leaks escaped to upset the routine, no emotions exploded to disturb the surface tranquillity....

All this was elaborate scrollwork, hiding content. The substance of the week's talks was finally revealed in a 1,500-word joint communique released just before the President left Shanghai to return to the U.S. It contained no great surprises, no great letdowns. If the communique had said any less than it did, the trip would surely have been considered a failure. It might have said a little more; it largely dwelled on the need for friendship without getting down to many specifics.

The sharpest language was reserved, in fact, for matters of disagreement. In a departure from the normal communique form, each side was given a chance to present its own views and beat the drum for its own cherished cause. The U.S. announced that it was trying to reduce world tensions and preserve freedom, while the Chinese pledged their faith in the liberation of the oppressed and revolution "as the irresistible trend of history." It was stock propaganda. At the same time, each nation sought to reassure its nervous allies. The U.S. tried to cheer up South

Viet Nam and South Korea (though not, pointedly, Taiwan); China gave encouragement to the Viet Cong and North Korea. The U.S. said it places the "highest value on its friendly relations with Japan"; the Chinese protested any "revival and outward expansion of Japanese militarism."
-- Time, March 6, 1972

Related Document: Joint Communique, Feb. 28, 1972


Gerald Ford, December 1975

US President Gerald Ford and Betty Ford meet with Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping. White House photo.

Now, Ford's Long March
Gerald Ford came home this week from yet another of his frequent foreign ventures, this one a grueling 25,700-mile odyssey to China. He could point with some satisfaction to a lengthy meeting with Chairman Mao - twice as long, in fact, as the audience granted to Richard Nixon during his epochal visit in 1972…. But the President accomplished little of substance during his eight-day absence, and while he was away a host of problems - domestic and foreign alike - piled up on his White House desk.

Despite the lack of substantive achievements - the summit produced no new agreements, no diplomatic breakthrough, not even a communique - U.S. officials made a valiant defense of the China trip. "I told you before we left there would be no spectacular announcements," Kissinger reminded reporters.
-- Richard Steele and Thomas M. DeFrank, Newsweek, Dec. 15, 1975

Ronald Reagan, April  - May 1984

US President Ronald Reagan and Deng Xiaoping, chair of the CCP Central Military Commission.

Reagan Trip Gives Picture of China's Attitude Toward U.S., Soviets
President Reagan's visit to China has produced an important definition of Peking's attitude toward the two superpowers, apparently foreshadowing its more balanced role in a triangular game.

This is the view of many diplomatic observers here, who say they believe that China indicated clearly that it wants to lessen the strains with Moscow while simultaneously maintaining the relationship with Washington. In this view, Peking's once broadly pro-western orientation has been shifted to playing off one superpower against the other for its own benefit.

The observers say this trend in Chinese diplomacy was symbolized by Peking's decision to censor Reagan's anti-Soviet remarks from Chinese press and television. After nearly two decades of bitter Sino-Soviet rivalry, the thaw in their relations has been developing during the past year or so with a dramatic increase in bilateral trade and broadening of cultural and other exchanges.
-- Dusko Doder, Washington Post, May 2, 1984

Reagan Ends Trip With a 'Dream' Of Friendship
"I just go home with a dream in my heart that we perhaps have started a friendship here between two great peoples," Reagan said during a 22-minute question-and-answer session with students at Fudan University. "Not an alliance--I admire the position of being nonaligned that you have. But being friends and neighbors. . . . We can be such a force for good in the world."
-- Lou Cannon, The Washington Post, May 1, 1984

Starring Ronald Reagan, and a billion Chinese extras
The Great Wall and the Great Hall make great backdrops for a presidential campaign. Mr Ronald Reagan ended his six- day visit to China on May 1st to largely favourable reviews from his main audience, back home in the United States. The president's first excursion to a communist country (not counting an hour in East Berlin) produced no diplomatic breakthroughs. Nor did it feature the gushing warmth of China's reception last month for Japan's prime minister, Mr Nakasone. But the Chinese leaders who clinked glasses with Mr Reagan in Peking, for the benefit of television viewers in both countries, seemed happy enough to help Mr Reagan look worldly-wise.

America's great communicator met his match in China's censors. His anti-Soviet barbs and references to America's success through faith in God and freedom were deleted from the broadcast version of the president's remarks in Peking. The Chinese, who had not seen the texts in advance, pointed out that derogatory references to other countries were out of court; they did not explain the other cuts. Nor was the local audience told that the speech had been doctored.

In Xian the Chinese put on a display that would have made Count Potemkin proud, virtually creating an entire peasant market outside the ancient capital's famous archaeological dig. The "shopping" began as the Reagans arrived. Most of the vendors and customers were Chinese policemen. Even the crowds that flanked the motorcade routes were not entirely spontaneous. Most were waiting for roadblocks to be cleared so that they could board buses and remount bicycles.
-- The Economist, May 5, 1984

Reagan, Deng build diplomatic bridge
Shaking hands in the Great Hall of the People, Deng Xiaoping, communist reformer, and Ronald Reagan, capitalist roader, have built a bridge for a more stable and vigorous relationship between the United States and the People's Republic of China.

Relations got off to a rocky start when President Reagan first came into office. Now they are back on track with mutual pledges to expand economic and technological cooperation, even though such sensitive issues as Taiwan still divide the two countries.

''The commitment to stand as friends has been made,'' the President declared in a banquet toast. ''The promise is solid. The challenges that remain, however, will take both patience and mutual understanding.''
In the thinking of Chinese leaders, the mere fact of the presidential visit is paramount. Asked if any progress had been made in the 11/2 hour meeting with Mr. Reagan, senior Chinese leader Deng replied: ''Much progress has been made. The most important progress is that I met the President the first time.''
While major conflicts will exist in Sino-Soviet relations, the two communist nations are trying to improve ties. To avoid offending the Soviets while these efforts are under way, the Chinese, in broadcasting the taped speech given by Reagan to several hundred Chinese scientists and intellectuals, deleted references to the Soviet troop buildup on the Chinese border and the shooting down of a South Korean airliner. A US official characterized the deletion as ''regrettable'' but suggested that the Chinese ''did not want to offend a third country.''

They also did not let Mr. Reagan say everything he wanted to the Chinese people. In the same address, the President extolled the virtues of democracy and capitalism. These portions and a reference to God were deleted.
-- Charlotte Saikowski, Christian Science Monitor, April 30, 1984

Related Documents: Reagan from the Great Hall, April 27, 1984
  Reagan Weekly Radio Address from Beijing, April 28, 1984
  Reagan to Students in Shanghai, April 30, 1984
  US-China Accord for Cultural Exchange, April 30, 1984
  Reagan at Signing Ceremony for Agreements, April 30, 1984

George H. W. Bush, February, 1989

Deng Xiaoping, chair of the CCP Central Military Commission, meets with US President George H.W. Bush.

China Rebukes U.S. Over Dissident; Beijing 'Resented' Bush Inviting Fang Lizhi to Farewell Dinner
China issued a sharp rebuke to the United States tonight, effectively blaming American officials for a flap over the barring by Chinese police of this country's leading dissident from President Bush's farewell dinner here.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said that the U.S. side had invited astrophysicist Fang Lizhi to the barbecue Bush hosted last night in honor of Chinese leaders "without consulting the Chinese side."

"Therefore, the Chinese side resented this," the spokesman said, according to a report issued later by the official New China News Agency.

China's statement amounted to a slap at Bush, who this morning expressed regret to a Chinese official over the barring of Fang from the banquet. A U.S. Embassy spokesman said Bush made his comments to Vice Premier Wu Xueqian, who saw Bush off at the airport at the end of the president's two-day visit.

U.S. officials apparently thought that inviting Fang to Bush's farewell dinner was a simple matter that would underline the U.S. concern for human rights without greatly disturbing the Chinese leadership. They appeared to be surprised when the Chinese police barred Fang from the dinner, presumably acting on the orders of high-level officials.
-- Daniel Southerland, Washington Post, Feb. 27, 1989

Bush treads lightly on issue of human rights in China
President Bush, concluding two days of personal diplomacy in China, flew to South Korea today for a brief stop before heading home to try to rescue John Tower's nomination as secretary of defense.

On Sunday, the last day of his visit to this city where he served as the chief U.S. envoy 15 years ago, Bush continued to renew old acquaintances, and he engaged Chinese leaders in what his spokesman called a "remarkable and unprecedented dialogue."

Bush's talks with Chinese officials also were notable for the way he treaded lightly over several touchy issues in U.S.-China relations - most noticeably, human rights.

The president met for two hours Sunday with Prime Minister Li Peng and later spent an hour with China's top leader, Deng Xiaoping. Marlin Fitzwater, the White House press secretary, told reporters that Bush had not raised the question of human rights in either session.
-- Phil Gailey, St. Petersburg Times, Feb. 27, 1989

China Denounces Dissenters; Bush Does Not Press Rights Issue; His Guest Turned Away
Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang denounced political dissidents and their American supporters today in a meeting with President Bush and China's best-known critic later was prevented by authorities from attending a dinner hosted by Bush to which the president had invited him.

The incident focused renewed attention on the sensitive issue of dissent and human rights here as Bush was winding up his two-day visit after meetings with China's top leaders. According to White House officials, Bush did not bring up the topic of human rights in any of the meetings, although human rights advocates in Congress and elsewhere had urged him to do so.
-- David Hoffman, Washington Post, Feb. 27, 1989

Related Documents: Bush Toast at Welcoming Banquet, Feb. 25, 1989
  Bush Interview with Chinese Journalists, Feb. 26, 1989
  Bush to American Embassy Staff, Feb. 26, 1989
  Bush at Chongwenmen Church, Feb. 26, 1989

Bill Clinton, June - July 1998

President Bill Clinton speaks with Xiahe villagers. White House photo.

For many in Beijing, Clinton visit an affirmation of China
As a major world capital, Beijing barely misses a beat as a steady stream of important visitors come in private jets and black limousines.

But Air Force One is different, and with President Clinton visiting, Beijing residents were good-naturedly preparing to have their city turned upside down for a few days.

For many here, the visit of the president is an occasion for national pride, and well worth the considerable fuss and bother of hosting him.

"The US is such a powerful country in the world, and Bill Clinton is such a powerful leader. So if China and" Chinese President "Jiang Zemin can host him here, doesn't that mean China is powerful too?" asked Wang Junxing, a Beijing native who runs a free market clothing stall near the US Embassy.
-- Ted Plafker, The Boston Globe, June 26, 1998

China's Hero Worship Shines on Unlikely Star
On campuses throughout the world's most populous nation, Xiao Ke is known as a youthful, energetic, and positive leader, even if his personal affairs are a bit chaotic.

Countless students at Beijing University are now angling to try to get a ticket for the coming appearance of Xiao Ke, described as "a man of the people" and a statesman of far-reaching global vision.

Magazines here that put Xiao Ke on their covers sell faster than rare teas, and yuppies across Chinese cities follow the twists and turns of his life like a soap opera.

Xiao Ke is not a Chinese movie star, politician, or rock star.

In fact, he is not even Chinese.

Xiao Ke is the nickname that many Chinese students, scholars, and citizens from every walk of life have given to Bill Clinton.
-- Kevin Platt, Christian Science Monitor, June 26, 1998

Clinton visits Tiananmen Square; Criticizes use of force against students in '89
Standing in the crosscurrents of history, President Clinton paid his visit to Tiananmen Square here this morning, offering his formal respects to a Chinese government striving for recognition as a world power.
At a press conference afterward with with President Jiang Zemin, Clinton chastised the Chinese government for the bloody massacre of protesters nine years ago and said the two nations should seek to build a friendship founded on citizens who are both "responsible and free."

"Earlier this morning, during my official welcome, I could hear and see the many echoes of China's past and the call of its promising future," Clinton said.

"For all of our agreements, we still disagree, about the meaning of what happened there," he said of the Tiananmen Square massacre, in which hundreds and possibly more than a thousand student protesters were killed by Chinese troops. "I believe, and the American people agree, that the use of force and the tragic loss of life was wrong."

Added Clinton: "Free speech is the right of people everywhere and should be protected by their government."
-- Brian McGrory, The Boston Globe, June 27, 1998

Clinton laments China's pollution Praises 'openness' in interview broadcast on state television
Stopping in a place the Chinese consider one of the most beautiful on Earth, President Clinton urged China today to begin cleaning up its massive pollution problems.

As he winds up his visit to China, Clinton took in the breathtaking sights of the stark limestone mountains that shroud the Li River running through the heart of this village. And Clinton saw some examples of Chinese environmental reforms, including clean-water and reforestation projects.

But Clinton also offered U.S. cooperation as he urged China to continue to face up to a problem that has major repercussions for its future.
-- Bill Nichols, USA Today, July 2, 1998

Clinton in China: The Outlook; Among Hosts, Much Elation
The Chinese, from the top leaders to the man in the street, were elated with the nine-day visit by an American President who struck many here as vibrant and empathetic.

No matter that President Clinton lectured China, gently but firmly, about the merits of freedom, called the bloody 1989 crackdown on demonstrators wrong and praised the Dalai Lama, who is usually portrayed here as a villain. He seemed to come as a respectful friend.

President Jiang Zemin's startling, self-confident decision to allow Mr. Clinton to speak on live television only added to the sense of excitement. "In the view of most people here this signals a new acceptance of China after 1989," said Zhang Xiaojin, an international relations expert at the People's University.

The White House, facing mounting complaints at home that it is coddling the Chinese at the expense of American values and interests, and the Chinese, who want American trade, investment, technology and respect, had congruent interests in this state visit. That was to improve China's image in the United States, showing its diversity and social changes and growing freedoms in the personal realm.

In that, the visit appears to have been a success. And it was President Jiang's insight to recognize that a major concession, like the televising of the Jiang-Clinton news conference and Mr. Clinton's Beijing University speech, was needed to make it so.
-- Erik Eckholm, New York Times, July 4, 1998

Related Documents: Joint Press Conference with Jiang Zemin, June 27, 1998
  Clinton at Beijing University, June 29, 1998

George W. Bush, October 2001 (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit)

Chinese President Jiang Zemin and US President George Bush. White House photo.


The World: Russia, China and the U.S.; In Terror, At Last a Common Enemy for the Big Three
The last time the Americans, Russians and Chinese were all in a coalition to defeat a common enemy, it was the spring of 1945, when Stalin belatedly joined Harry S. Truman and Chiang Kai-shek in the battle against Japan.

It was a fragile alliance of convenience, ridden with mutual suspicion, and all three leaders knew it couldn't last. It didn't. Within a year, it was being torn apart by the strains of the cold war. And even after Communism died in Russia, the economic glue of globalization wasn't enough to unify the three.

So it was striking last weekend in Shanghai when George W. Bush, Vladimir V. Putin and Jiang Zemin all signed up for the war on terrorism. Each defined his country's participation differently, and they had differing levels of enthusiasm. But there they were.


No one is predicting the death of triangular diplomacy. With China's power rising, America's holding roughly steady and Russia still trying to figure out how important it remains on the world stage, it's hard to imagine an absence of rivalry.
-- David E. Sanger, New York Times, Oct. 28, 2001

George W. Bush, February 2002


President George W. Bush takes questions at Tsinghua University in Beijing. White House photo.

Forget Marx -- Beijing now looks to U.S.
If imitation is the highest form of flattery, Washington should feel highly complimented by Beijing. Over and over, China has shown that America is its role model and that its goal is to be more like the United States.

Thus, when the Chinese government decided that President Jiang Zemin, like his U.S. counterpart, needed his own official plane, they quite naturally decided to buy an American-manufactured aircraft, the Boeing 767-300ER. It was to become the Chinese equivalent of "Air Force One," the U.S. presidential plane.

But before the jetliner, refitted in San Antonio with special amenities for Jiang, was due to make its maiden voyage, Chinese officials discovered more than two dozen electronic listening devices embedded throughout the plane, including in the presidential toilet and in the headboard of his bed.

For a brief moment, there was fear that the incident would mar the summit meeting scheduled for Feb. 21-22 between U.S. President George W. Bush and Jiang. Surprisingly, however, the Chinese decided not to make an issue of it. It would be difficult to imagine the U.S. keeping quiet if Americans had discovered evidence that Chinese agents had bugged Bush's plane. But the Chinese evidently decided that the Sino-
American relationship was too important and did not want this incident to derail the Bush-Jiang summit.
-- Frank Ching, Japan Times, Feb. 14, 2002


Blunt Bush shakes China's confidence
As soon as President George W. Bush and his party flew out from their Beijing summit, President Jiang Zemin's spin doctors set to work.

Commentators on Chinese television immediately set about explaining why the motherland would not be taking over Taiwan any time soon but this was actually a good thing, not a setback.

The reason, explained Professor Jin Shanrong, head of the American Affairs Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, was that if there was a war, it would be a disaster for China and for everyone else in the world.

Mr Bush made very clear at Tsinghua University that he was indeed prepared to take on China's military over Taiwan. He spoke bluntly and his intentions, broadcast live on Chinese television, could not be ignored.

Former president Bill Clinton's deliberate ambiguity about how America would respond had raised expectations in China, prompting it to fire missiles, issue dire threats and lead many people to believe it was in China's grasp to force the situation when ready to do so.
-- Jasper Becker, South China Morning Post, Feb.24, 2002

Warmth above, mistrust beneath; Analysis
Yet the 30-hour Bush visit ... had none of the resonance of the momentous meeting between Nixon and Mao Zedong.

In many ways it reflected the way in which the ties between China and the United States have developed over the past 30 years: plenty of warmth on the surface, deep currents of mistrust beneath.

For all the apparent friendliness, nothing substantive has altered in Sino-US ties as a result of this trip. The outcomes were few and far between. Mr Bush failed to secure a Chinese undertaking on missile non-proliferation. China has not budged the US one bit in its support for Taiwan.

China's state-run media focused on the historic and positive nature of the talks. But the average Chinese remains largely ambivalent on all things American. On one level, people consume McDonald's takeaways with gusto, along with increasingly large doses of US popular culture. Parents yearn (and often make huge sacrifices) to send their offspring to be educated in America in the hope of a more prosperous and secure future.

Yet on another level, suspicion sometimes even resentment finds open expression. China is wary of US attempts to contain its potential as a regional, if not global, economic and military power.
-- John Schauble, Sydney Morning Herald, Feb. 23, 2002

Related Document: Jiang Zemin at Joint Press Conference, Feb. 22, 2002


George W. Bush, November 2005

President George Bush and Laura Bush joined Sunday services at Gangwashi Church in Beijing. White House photo.

Bush provides China with lectures, entreaties and a few laughs
In a visit to Beijing that veered between the solemn and the slapstick, President George Bush worshipped at a state-run "patriotic" church yesterday in an appeal for China to grant greater religious and political freedom to its citizens.

But reflecting the White House's policy of cautious engagement, Mr Bush's lectures about human rights were mixed with entreaties to his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, for greater economic cooperation.
-- Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, Nov. 21, 2005


George W. Bush, August 2008 (Beijing Olympics)

 Chinese President Hu Jintao with former US President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush on August 10, 2008 in Beijing. White House photo.


Bush's Olympics Diplomacy Plan
"We played tennis and lost, 6-3 6-4. George was tired, and I played lousy...'"

So wrote George Herbert Walker Bush in his diary on June 4, 1975. The "George" who was tired that day was his son, George W. Bush — jet lagged, no doubt, because the tennis court they played on was in Beijing. 'Bush 43' was then fresh out of the Harvard Business School, and 'Bush 41' was chief of the first United States Liason Office in Beijing — the de facto embassy that had opened after Richard Nixon's historic opening to China in 1972.

This Friday, August 8, 2008, father and son are in Beijing again, for an occasion that neither will need a diary entry to remember. The former President introduced his son at a dedication ceremony for a sprawling new U.S. embassy complex, just 12 hours before Beijing opened the 2008 Summer Olympics, ratifying its astonishing three-decade rise from penury to global power.

Bush 43 is on the last stop of what is his last ever tour of east Asia as President. And while, at the embassy on Friday morning, he gracefully acknowledged history's extraordinary progress — the Beijing of 2008 bears no resemblance to the dusty, impoverished capital he visited 33 years ago — the trip is neither a Bush family exercise in nostalgia, nor a farewell tour for a Chief Executive with just months left in office. For Bush, it is about an array of present dangers — Iran above all.
-- Bill Powell, Time, August 8, 2008

Bush Praises China but Continues Rebuke During Embassy Dedication in Beijing President Bush rebuked China over political and religious freedoms for a second day on Friday, though he tempered his criticism with effusive praise for the country’s history and embraced its hosting of the Olympic Games....

Responding to a speech by Mr. Bush [in Bangkok] on Thursday, in which he praised China’s modernization but expressed “deep concerns” over restrictions on faith and free speech, the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a curt statement that bristled with anger over “any words or acts that interfere in other countries’ internal affairs.”...

“We’ll continue to be candid about our mutual global responsibilities,” he said at the embassy dedication, which was attended by senior Chinese diplomats. “We must work together to protect the environment and help people in the developing world, continue to be candid about our belief that all people should have the freedom to say what they think and worship as they choose. We strongly believe societies which allow the free expression of ideas tend to be the most prosperous and the most peaceful.”
-- Steven Lee Myers, New York Times, August 7, 2008

Related Documents: (Pre-Trip) Bush on US policies toward China, Asia, July 31, 2008
  (Bangkok) Bush on US-Asia Relations, August 7, 2008