Just about every American president since Richard M. Nixon has confronted the fact that his influence over China is far more limited than he once hoped. President Bush is now facing that reality midway through his second term, at a moment when the Chinese clearly sense his weakness.
Mr. Bush’s predicament was on display during his encounters on Thursday with President Hu Jintao, in which Mr. Bush made it clear that the status quo was unacceptable, that America’s $200 billion annual trade deficit is “unsustainable,” that Iran needs to face sanctions to force it to halt its nuclear program, and that China must “use its considerable influence” to make sure North Korea is disarmed.
Mr. Hu acknowledged that each of those issues needed attention, but deflected every effort to commit China to concrete action. It was the fifth time that the two men have met in the past year. The mood was friendly, yet the tension was unmistakable.
See also Washington Post’s analysis “U.S., China Stand Together but Are Not Equal” by Glenn Kessler:
On the surface, the White House visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao yesterday was a celebration of improving Sino-U.S. ties. But the subtext was the future — and how these two countries will share the international stage.
At every turn, Hu sought to stress the equality between the two nations, which, as he put it in a luncheon toast, are the “largest developing country and the largest developed country.” For his part, Bush tried to signal that China is not all that equal.