Ahead of President Barack Obama’s meeting with President Xi Jinping, in China there has been a steady drum beat of positive press for a meeting that is expected to tussle with some of the two countries’ thorniest issues.
Over the past week, state media reports have talked glowingly about the positive benefits of better relations as if there had been some kind of tectonic shift even before the two leaders sat down.
On Friday, a headline in the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, read: “Let Cybersecurity Become a New Highlight of China-U.S. Cooperation.” The report quoted China’s director of the State Internet Information Office describing Beijing and Washington as being complementary in cyberspace, adding that a win-win trend was inevitable.
Predictions of major progress during Friday’s discussions were generous with some saying there could be significant strides made in the negotiation of a Bilateral Investment Treaty between the two countries.
However, Xie Tao, a political scientist at Beijing Foreign Studies University called the media blitz “absurd” and voiced concerns that it was giving a misleading impression about the current state of relations between the two countries.
“Almost every scholar and pundit is standing out to tout the U.S.-China relationship,” he said.
He said the Chinese media have stopped talking about the South China Sea issue and the negative aspects of cyber security as if it is all smooth sailing. Xie wondered what would happen when the press goes back to normal after the meetings are over.
“The public will say: Hey, wait a second, last week it was just like we were on a honeymoon and now you are going to break up?," Xie said.
Xie said he does not expect much progress on cyber security or even the bilateral investment treaty, but summits like the one that Obama and Xi are holding are crucial not necessarily because of the bigger issues.
“It is about personal rapport, that kind of getting to know the other person as an individual. Not just as a decision maker, but as someone you can talk to,” Xie said.
Former Senior Director for Asian Affairs at the White House’s National Security Council Evan Mederios said that Obama has met more times with Chinese leaders during his time in office than any other U.S. president since 1979. Speaking at an Asia Society event earlier this week, Mederios said that when looking at China-U.S. relations it’s important not to put them into a box of success or failure.
“The U.S.-China relationship is far too important and complex for it to be subject to a pass or fail test,” he said.