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Video: The Obama – Xi Sunnylands Summit seen through the press and popular culture in the U.S. and China

The USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy and the USC U.S.–China Institute present a panel discussion to examine the media coverage and other behind the scenes details of the superpower summit.

September 23, 2013

President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping of China held a major meeting in June at Sunnylands, the historic Annenberg estate in Rancho Mirage, California. The meeting was hailed as “the most important meeting between an American president and a Chinese leader in 40 years, since Nixon and Mao.” However, the meeting also drew widely disparate coverage in the domestic and international press and became the focus of attention in the popular culture in both nations.

Ernest Wilson III, dean of the Annenberg School, and Geoffrey Cowan, president of the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands

The discussion began with Ernest Wilson III, dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, noting that the meeting between Obama and Xi came just as the U.S. and China are becoming more intertwined, yet less trusting of each other.

Geoffrey Cowan, president of the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands and director of the Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy , then discussed how the meeting was intended to help prevent conflict between the U.S. and China. He noted that the meeting occured just as his play, Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers was making its second tour of China. Focusing on separation of judicial and executive powers and freedom of the press, Top Secret was being reviewed in China just as the Edward Snowden-initiated revelations about U.S. National Security Agency monitoring of phone and data traffic were coming out. This certainly changed the context in which cybersecurity matters were discussed, perhaps not between Obama and Xi, but certainly in the press. Cowan further noted that Sunnylands itself became a part of the discussion of the meeting. Cowan noted three things about the coverage of the meeting. First, he noted that because of an error by the New York Times, attention was directed at Michelle Obama's absence from the meeting. Second, he thought that coverage suggesting that Obama and Xi were not friendly towards each other was inaccurate. And third, he noted that the meeting became part of popular culture (as suggested by the photo mashup above).


Clayton Dube, director of the USC U.S.-China Institute, a program of the Annenberg School, then discussed the importance of the

relationship and how American and Chinese press covered it. He noted that some of the differences were because of America's media must compete for the attention of readers and viewers while China's government is able to ensure that its priorities get put before readers and viewers regardless of their interest in them. Dube also discussed the protests that accompanied the meeting. He noted that while the discussions produced no new joint communiqué, the length of the meeting and the focus on candid discussion conveyed to both bureaucracies and peoples that the relationship is vital and that both leaders are committed to improving it. As outdgoing White House National Security Advisor Tom Donilon put it, the two sides affirmed that the two countries need not be adversaries. At the same time, large gaps continue to exist between the two countries on issues such as cybersecurity. Dube was joined by Archey Lee, a USCI researcher and recent Annenberg graduate, in discussing weibo exchanges about the meeting. She brought a laugh to the room when she noted how anxious many Chinese were to see Peng Liyuan and Michelle Obama together.



This video is also available on the USCI YouTube Channel.

This event was sponsored by the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy and the USC US – China Institute.

Dean Ernest Wilson III, Geoffrey Cowan, Archey Lee, and Clayton Dube