As Chinese President Xi Jinping prepares to meet with American counterpart Barack Obama in California this week, The Wall Street Journal’s Jeremy Page and Colleen Nelson report that the summit reflects China’s desire to walk the walk of a great power on equal footing with the United States:
Party insiders say Mr. Xi is deliberately setting himself apart from his predecessor, Hu Jintao, who never attempted such an informal meeting, appeared stiff and awkward in public and is viewed by many in China as a weak leader who failed to implement badly needed reforms during his decade in power.
Mr. Xi’s initiative puts Mr. Obama in a difficult position, as he seeks to establish a better working relationship with his Chinese counterpart, who will be in office for a decade, while reassuring Asian allies concerned about China’s growing economic and military muscle.
People familiar with the preparations said that Chinese officials had been pushing for a meeting between Mr. Xi and Mr. Obama since around December to reinforce the new Chinese leader’s signature foreign policy initiative, which is to forge a “new-type great power relationship” with the U.S. [Source]
Reuters’ John Ruwitch writes that unlike past meetings between Chinese and American leaders, which were usually scripted and formal, this weekend’s summit will be casual:
“You’d never imagine that other Chinese leaders would agree to such a kind of meeting,” said Ruan Zongze, a former Chinese diplomat, of the summit at a lush private estate called “Sunnylands” in the resort community of Rancho Mirage.
“That’s a very important message to the Americans: That we’d like to engage, we’d like to have discussions with them. I think Xi is more accessible and this will be a very good opportunity for Xi and Obama to build a better personal relationship,” said Ruan, vice president of the China Institute of International Studies, a think-tank linked to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Such an informal setting would appear to play more to Obama’s strengths. But if any Chinese leader has a shot at matching Obama in the charm stakes, it’s Xi, who took over from the notoriously wooden Hu Jintao as Communist Party leader late last year and as president in March. [Source]
See also a New York Times op-ed by former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman and author Ian Bremmer in which they recommend that the U.S. “stop trying to negotiate with the China they want to see and engage China as it is.”