Why Is Hu Jintao Going to Chicago?

Now that the pomp and circumstance surrounding President Hu Jintao’s visit to DC is over, he is heading to Chicago and some, such as the New Yorker’s Evan Osnos, are asking why:

Why not Silicon Valley, to show that China is mending relations with tech companies after its fight with Google? Why not Houston, home of Yao Ming? Why not New York? The answer is that Chicago has emerged as a clear, and unlikely, new favorite of the Chinese leadership. Seated at the head table on Wednesday was Mayor Richard Daley and his wife Maggie. Daley has gushed over the Chinese coming to town. “It is a big deal. Big, big, big, big. Big deal,” he said last week.

Reuters also asks why:

Local business and cultural experts say it was an easy choice. Under Mayor Richard M. Daley, Chicago has made sustained efforts to attract Chinese tourism and business, as well as promote Chicago business in China.

Chicago is also an educational center, with top schools like the University of Chicago attracting Chinese students. The city has two “Chinatowns” and 12,000 public school students are learning Chinese.

“Chicago has the most diverse economy in the nation, so pretty much what you want to find in America, you’ll find in the Chicago metropolitan area,” said Rita Athas, president of World Business Chicago, the city’s economic development body.

On China Beat, Jeffrey Wasserstrom asks what impact this visit to Chicago will have on future U.S.-China summits:

Except in the Windy City itself, where Hu Jintao heads today and will spend tomorrow, the reporting and speculative commentary on the Chinese leader’s second visit to the United States has tended to focus on it’s just-concluding Washington leg. To me, though, the stop in Chicago seemed from the start the most potentially interesting and novel part of Hu’s trip. After all, this is the first time that a visit to Chicago, an economically important crossroads city with a colorful history and famous architectural landmarks, has figured in the itinerary of the head of China’s Communist Party.

Novelties matter in part because when a new thing takes place during one U.S.-China summit, a matching event often occurs during the next one. After Jiang Zemin gave a speech in 1997 at Harvard, for example, it seemed only natural that when Bill Clinton went to the PRC next, in 1998, he should give a talk at Peking University, a Beijing institution that likes to call itself the Harvard of China. So, it is worth asking this question now: What would be the most symbolically appropriate or interesting Chicago-like stop that could be part of Barack Obama’s schedule, if he makes another presidential trip to China?

To answer this question, I’ve prepared a little list of five possibilities for a second city (Beijing’s got to be visited) that Obama could go to on his next trip, which would be a match for Hu’s 2010 stay in America’s Second City. These options range from the sensible and plausible to the intriguing but hopelessly far-fetched.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune reports that in Chicago itself, there are mixed emotions about Hu’s visit.

January 20, 2011 11:52 AM
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Categories: Economy, Politics