China’s dictator-in-waiting Xi Jinping ended his much ballyhooed US trip this weekend at a Los Angeles Lakers game, where he was feted by the likes of Vice President Joe Biden, California Governor Jerry Brown, NBA legend Magic Johnson and soccer superstar David Beckham.
The Staples Center on Hollywood’s periphery was a fitting backdrop for the glitzy final act in Xi’s propaganda tour, which ended after a week of made-for-TV events designed to soften the image of Chinese regime and its soon-to-be leader.
In addition to the Laker game, Xi visited the port of Los Angeles, where he shook hands and posed with smartly dressed Chinese officers of Shanghai’s China Shipping. The staged photo op of the smiling Xi underscores China’s clout at America’s busiest container port, where shipments from the People’s Republic accounted for more than $120 billion last year. That makes China the port of Los Angeles’ biggest customer.
Xi also stopped in Iowa as part of his American tour. There, in the home of America’s first in the nation presidential caucuses, Xi’s kept a schedule that would be the envy of almost any US presidential hopeful. He appeared at a state event with the Governor, signed a hefty bilateral soybean purchase agreement, and even found time to wow the international media by driving a tractor. The soybean deal, worth a reported $4.3 billion, set off what a DeMoines Register report termed the “Xi rally,” which “has put 70 cents per bushel onto the price of soybeans since Feb. 1…adding $186.4 million to the cash value of a crop that is expected to bring just under $6 billion in cash to the Iowa economy.”
That’s not small potatoes, and you can bet that’s exactly what China is trying to emphasize by publicizing the lucrative deal. Mindful of criticism from this year’s GOP presidential field about currency manipulation and “unfair” trade practices. Mr. Xi’s visit was no doubt intended to remind Iowans about the importance of the Chinese market – in the hope that Iowans will in turn pass that reminder on in four years to visiting presidential candidates.
It’s clear that Beijing used this trip to portray a kinder, gentler People’s Republic of China to the average American. What’s less clear is exactly what the Obama Administration achieved – or hoped to achieve – by once again rolling out the red carpet for a senior official of one of the world’s largest and most repressive dictatorships. Beyond acting as an associate producer for the propaganda film that Xi’s visit essentially was, the White House once again walked away with few if any deliverables.
Just days before Xi’s visit, the Chinese vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on Syria, accusing the US of “gunboat diplomacy” and attempting to “oppress the international community” for good measure. Beijing also remains the chief benefactor and protector of a nuclear-armed North Korean regime, routinely undermines sanctions against Iran, and has patronized the likes of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, and Sudan’s butcher Omar al-Bashir. And who could forget the PRC’s macabre policy of forced abortion and long record of rampant human rights abuses.
On the commercial front, China’s record isn’t much better. Just last week PRC Officials began to seize ipads from Apple retailers last week – making the mind-boggling assertion that a local Chinese company is the rightful owner of the ipad name.
So why the VIP welcome, Mr. President? Exactly what did we gain from Mr. Xi’s visit?
In fairness to President Obama, America’s wholesale capitulation to the Chinese didn’t begin on his watch. But it ought to end there.
For the last two decades – through successive Republican and Democrat Administrations, America’s China policy has generally gravitated between “feckless” and “distracted.” And by almost any measure, it has failed. Our badly outdated Nixon-era framework for dealing with the communist giant must be discarded in favor of a more assertive policy, one that recognizes China’s status as a major superpower and comes to grips with its increasingly bold territorial claims and military modernization.
To be sure, we don’t know what all the details of that new policy ought to look like. But we do know that America can no longer afford to pursue a policy whose guiding principle is not to offend the delicate sensibilities of the Chinese Communist Party.
A shift is long overdue, and it’s one that conscientious Democrats and Republicans in the Congress should come together to demand.