Xi Jinping’s U.S. Visit Long on Style, Short on Substance

Vice President Xi Jinping has concluded his U.S. tour and seems to have made a positive impression with his relaxed and friendly manner, a sharp contrast to the often wooden appearances of President Hu Jintao and other Chinese leaders. From AFP:

The 58-year-old showed a different style from China’s typically stiff President Hu Jintao. Xi appeared at ease with Americans as he reminisced with people he met in 1985 on an exchange to Iowa and later praised the clean Midwestern air as he hopped onto a tractor.

Xi referenced films “The Godfather” and “Mission: Impossible” and closed his trip Friday by taking in a Lakers basketball game in Los Angeles. His delegation committed to buying billions of dollars in soybeans and letting in more Hollywood movies.

US Vice President Joe Biden, who was Xi’s host and traveled to China last year, said that the two have spent some 20 hours getting to know each other and have spoken of everything “from Confucius to Catholicism.”

“I strongly believe, and I think Vice President Xi does as well, that the honest, sustained dialogue we’ve had this week can and will build a stronger relationship that benefits both our nations and our people,” Biden said.

And the New York Times reports from Los Angeles, his final stop on his U.S. tour:

Xi buffed his regular-guy image on Friday with a visit to the International Studies Learning Center in South Gate, California, just southeast of Los Angeles.

Responding to a high school student’s question during a classroom visit, he said that he liked to read, swim (his favourite sport) and watch US basketball, baseball and football.

“Of course, we always want more time to ourselves,” Xi said in Mandarin, the language the class was studying. “But to borrow a title from an American film, it’s like Mission: Impossible.” The room broke up in laughter.

Reports of his visit are playing well in China, too, as the Washington Post reports:

Xi seemed at ease around his American hosts, whether climbing into a tractor cab in Iowa or sitting tie-less during the fourth quarter of a Los Angeles Lakers game as he laughed alongside Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

It’s not an image Chinese are used to after the decade-long presidency of the stiff and formal-looking Hu Jintao, who often comes across in photos as a typical Communist Party bureaucrat. And many here noted the difference.

“The Chinese style in official talks for the past 10 years is just repeating what the book says, with no taste or character,” wrote one weibo user, using the name Qianfengqingyin. “Xi Jinping’s remarks during his U.S. visit are quite vivid and new.”

But as Time Magazine’s blog reports, bolstering his own and China’s image was the major accomplishment of Xi’s trip:

The visit, however, was short on substance — not that anyone really expected major policy changes to emerge from Xi’s trip. After all, the 58-year-old son of a revolutionary hero isn’t yet China’s President or Communist Party General Secretary. (The latter is a more important role.) With a delicate political transition and an increasingly confident populace back home, Xi could hardly have been expected to cave on the U.S.-China trade deficit or roll over on China’s currency, which U.S. officials allege is artificially devalued to help Chinese exports. Those agreements that were announced were minor in the scheme of U.S.-China relations, like a pledge by Beijing to open the car-insurance market to foreigners.

Nevertheless, in a country where scaremongering about China is plentiful during a presidential-campaign season, Xi tried to reassure Americans who are uneasy about potential conflict in the Pacific region. “China welcomes a constructive role with the United States in promoting peace, stability and prosperity in the Asia Pacific,” Xi said during a Wednesday luncheon. At the same time, China’s official media highlighted Xi’s efforts to talk tough, including his call “on the United States to adjust its economic policies and structure and remove restrictions on exports to China to address the trade imbalance,” as the state-run China Daily put it. While official Chinese media noted that U.S. Vice President Joe Biden hosted Xi during a State Department lunch, there was little mention of the American’s rather confrontational toast, in which he chided China for intellectual-property theft, foreign-investment obstacles and Beijing’s use of a U.N. veto to block multilateral action in Syria. Instead, the China Daily described the atmosphere at the State Department meal as “relaxing.”

Xi is currently visiting Ireland, where he is taking a page from his visit to Iowa by visiting a dairy farm. Ireland is the world’s largest exporter of baby formula, much of which goes to China.

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