News / Asia

China-US Summit to be Casual, Not Relaxed

President Barack Obama meets with China then-Vice President Xi Jinping at the White House, Washington, Feb., 14, 2012.President Barack Obama meets with China then-Vice President Xi Jinping at the White House, Washington, Feb., 14, 2012.
x
President Barack Obama meets with China then-Vice President Xi Jinping at the White House, Washington, Feb., 14, 2012.
President Barack Obama meets with China then-Vice President Xi Jinping at the White House, Washington, Feb., 14, 2012.
Reuters
— Meetings between leaders of the United States and China have mostly been dour, orchestrated affairs conducted by teams of men in dark suits. But China's new President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama are shedding the script and neckties for their first summit, an informal get-together this week in the California desert.
 
Since President Richard Nixon's visit to Beijing in 1972, which broke decades of estrangement between the two countries, the summits have been carefully plotted rituals. One exception has been a visit by President Jiang Zemin to George W. Bush's ranch in Texas in 2002, but it was only for a few hours.
 
But an informal setting suits both Obama and Xi and the payoff could be huge if they can build a rapport that brings the world's top two economies closer. Nevertheless, the short-sleeves meeting is shaping up as anything but relaxing — the two sides have to overcome differences on cyber-security, the South China Sea, North Korea and other issues.
 
"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.
 
According to U.S. officials at the time, Hu declined Bush's offer in 2006 for a laid-back meeting at his ranch home, something many other foreign leaders would have welcomed. Hu preferred the decorum of the White House.
 
Unlike the baby-kissing politicians of the West, China's Communist Party works hard to keep its top leaders from appearing too human — to the extent that for many, even their official birth dates and the names of their children are regarded as a state secret.
 
Xi, though, has cultivated a casual image, appearing relaxed in public, occasionally speaking off the cuff and making sure there is less pomp when Chinese officials make trips.
 
On a visit to the city of Shenzhen last year he chose to be ferried around in a minibus rather than a presidential sedan and broke from script to shake hands with locals, almost unheard of by a senior Chinese leader.
 
Xi's glamorous wife, Peng Liyuan, will share the limelight, much as Michelle Obama does with her husband. Peng, a famous singer, made a splash travelling with Xi to Russia and Africa in March, breaking the mold of Chinese first wives who have traditionally kept out of the limelight.
 
One-on-one

The June 7-8 summit meetings will be held at Sunnylands, the 1960s-era winter home of philanthropists Walter and Leonore Annenberg, which they hoped one day would become a 'Camp David of the West.'
 
The schedule is designed for Xi and Obama to have time to get to know each other, U.S. government sources said. Between group meetings the two are expected to have some one-on-one time among the manicured gardens and walking paths at the estate.
 
"The [new] Chinese leadership seemed to be off to a rather quick start... We calculated that, and interestingly, the Chinese agreed to do something we hadn't done before, which was to create an informal menu that would allow the leaders to talk — and actually to really talk — and be able to do so over the span of two different days," a senior U.S. official said.
 
"This meeting should allow them to talk about the issues in a way that diverts from the tradition of dueling talking points, where a Chinese leader reads from a script and an American leader responds on fairly predictable lines."
 
Nevertheless, the official said it would be wrong to look at the summit as if it were "a slot machine and at the end it's going to pay out in tokens of deliverables."
 
"What we are doing and what the Chinese are doing is to try for greater convergence and also to try to avert some of the more problematic and more confrontational possibilities in the relationship."
 
Delegates to a regional security meeting in Singapore at the weekend also said the Chinese military officials there came ready to talk, with a new sense of openness and charm.
 
Xi and Obama are well matched for a no-neckties business meeting, said Shi Yinhong, director of the Center for American Studies at Renmin University in Beijing, who has advised the government on relations with the United States.
 
"Obama is a great performer. He can be relaxed, but also hard-nosed. Xi is the same," said Shi.
 
For much of his first term, Obama put less emphasis on forging close personal bonds with other world leaders than his back-slapping predecessor, Bush. Bush often invited leaders to his ranch or the Camp David presidential retreat for extra face time.
 
Obama has rarely gone that far, but he has shown an ability to turn on the charm when he sees fit, as he did in his March visit to Israel where he struck a chummier tone with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
 
The California meeting was tacked on to the tail end of Xi's state visits to Mexico, Costa Rica and Trinidad. Both Beijing and Washington saw value in the rendezvous even though in the second half of the year, Obama and Xi will have at least three chances to meet, starting with September's G20 meeting.
 
"By meeting early, by chatting early, by reaching a level of trust early, things will go smoothly this year and relations between the two countries will be more stable," said Shen Dingli, Vice Dean of the Institute of International Affairs at Shanghai's Fudan University.
 
"The results may be better because of the fact that they are taking off their ties and dispensing of ceremony. It's a little more free because it's not tied up in high diplomatic protocol."
 
Past Chinese leaders have used the formality of their meetings with U.S. presidents to tell domestic audiences that their Communist Party-run government is honored by the world's sole superpower. But Xi is also likely to spin the informality of sunny California to his advantage.
 
"Sure, a formal state dinner would be wonderful," said Renmin University's Shi. But the Chinese leaders will be able to describe these informal talks as a way to prove that Sino-U.S. relations are more intimate."

You May Like

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

Analysts say move by President Xi is an effort to win more party support, take step toward economic reforms, removing those who would stand in way of change More

South Africa Land Reforms Still Contentious 20 Years Later

Activists argue that the pace of land reform is slow and biased; legal experts question how some proposed reforms would be implemented More

In Vietnam, Religious Freedoms Violated, UN Finds

Beliefs reportedly prompt heavy surveillance, intimidation and travel restrictions More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelteri
X
Scott Bobb
July 30, 2014 8:16 PM
Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video A Summer Camp for All the World

VIDEO: During workshops and social gatherings, the Global Youth Village summer camp encourages young people to cooperate and embrace their differences, while learning to communicate with people from other countries. VOA's Deborah Block has more.
Video

Video From Cantankerous Warlock to Incorruptible Priest, 'Harry Potter' Actor Embraces Diverse Roles

He’s perhaps best known as Mad Eye Moody, the whimsical wizard in the Harry Potter franchise. But character actor Brendan Gleeson's resume includes dozens of films, and he embraces all the characters he inhabits with equal passion. In an interview with VOA’s Penelope Poulou, Gleeson discussed his new drama "Calvary" and his secret to success.

AppleAndroid