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White House Out to Lunch With China
Hu Jintao is anxious to please, but the U.S. remains aloof
David Kootnikoff (kaspian)     Print Article 
Published 2006-04-17 16:53 (KST)   
In the run-up to Hu Jintao's White House visit April 20, the rush to set the public agenda in the press has begun. Vats of ink are being spilt on nuclear weapons, Taiwan, trade deficits, and human rights, while some U.S. congressmen are convinced that China is trying to beat them to the moon. Evidently, that thing in 1969 with Neil Armstrong was just one giant step for Hollywood's special effects.

The domestic agenda in the U.S. is being driven by congressional elections later this year, which favors a tough approach to China, no matter how out of synch with reality it may be. The Bush administration has even refused to call the meeting an official state visit. Hu will be receiving his formal welcoming dinner of Alaskan halibut at Bill Gates' mansion overlooking Lake Washington rather than a state dinner at the White House, which is the usual protocol. The White House will be preparing lunch. For America, it's open season on China bashing.

None of this seems to have fazed the usually buttoned down and starched-stiff Hu. He's suddenly popping up all over the news announcing fresh initiatives in anticipation of this week's meeting.

Beijing is hoping against hope to deter any sanctions or assaults on Iran that would jeopardize oil supplies and prices. That's why Beijing announced last week that it would be sending a top envoy on arms control to Iran and Russia to help diffuse the current nuclear standoff. China is also conscious of its role as mediator in the North Korean dispute. Beijing hopes that its commitment to being a "responsible stakeholder" in international affairs will pull some concessions from Washington to hold back on Iran.

As for all those congressmen who have been accusing Beijing of inciting a trade war, Hu has already made some conciliatory moves. China signed a deal last week to buy 80 Boeing planes worth US$4.6 billion and has agreed to resume beef imports from the U.S., banned since 2003 during a mad-cow scare.

The government also announced two weeks ago that all computers will need to have a licensed operating system installed before hitting the shelves, in an effort to discourage piracy. As a result, Beijing has persuaded Washington to postpone the release of its Treasury report -- likely to be very critical of the overvalued Yuan and an economy which grew at a red-hot 10.2 percent in the first quarter of this year -- until after the visit.

Then there is Taiwan. Beijing has just reached out to Taipei calling for fresh talks and announcing a list of 15 incentives, all designed to put pressure on President Chen Shui-bian and sway public opinion in the direction of the mainland. Among these is a loosening of restrictions on food imports from Taiwan and mainland recognition for diplomas issued from Taiwanese universities.

These have been warmly welcomed by some in the business community, most notably Terry Gou, chief executive of Taiwan's top electronic-parts maker, Hon Hai. He was quoted as saying, rather facetiously, "businessmen are concerned about the economy and never politics." Just the type of capitalist Beijing prefers.

Beijing was rattled when Chen all but abolished an advisory council on reunification in February - in response it repeated its vow to attack Taiwan if independence is ever declared. Beijing is also worried about how Taiwan's 2008 election may spoil its Olympic euphoria. Chen's party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), could feel compelled to make further moves towards independence to win votes. Nothing would kill Beijing's "one world, one dream" Olympics faster than the sight of missiles flying across the Taiwan Straight. Hu will be seeking public reassurances from Bush signaling his lack of support for any further moves on Taiwan's part for independence.

Mounting pressure from an impatient 1.3 billion plus population for social change has the Communist Party now seeking the opiate of the masses -- religion -- as an agent for calm, if not also reform. The world's first forum on Buddhism was held last week in the eastern city of Hangzhou and was attended by Buddhists from over 30 countries. The Dalai Lama was not invited, but Beijing's choice for Panchen Lama did make an appearance. The Dalai Lama's choice has disappeared and is reportedly being held under house arrest.

China will point to this forum, along with the recent ascent of Hong Kong's Joseph Zen to Cardinal of the Catholic Church and the accompanying dialogue between Beijing and the Vatican, as a significant step towards religious freedom and an improvement in the human rights of its people.

Nevertheless, it remains common knowledge that China is among the world's most repressive states. Last week, the NGO Human Rights in China issued an open letter to President Bush urging his administration to address the issue:
"China continues to face serious human rights challenges, particularly in the areas of free expression, criminal justice and harassment of defense lawyers, freedom of religion, harassment of petitioners and peaceful protesters, and arbitrary detention of political activists and rights defenders. These violations of human rights continue despite provisions in the Chinese Constitution that guarantee respect for human rights and despite obligations the Chinese government recognized by ratifying numerous international human rights treaties."
On April 22, it will be one year since the Hong Kong journalist Ching Cheong was jailed on spy charges. Four months later he was charged formally with spying for Taiwan, an accusation he and his supporters vehemently deny. The deadline for his trial has come and gone and no one is any closer to understanding his fate.

The U.S. could pressure Beijing to apply its own statutes to improve the rule of law for the many people like Ching who are jailed without due process. For Beijing, however, stability at almost any cost is its ultimate priority. Not surpisingly, the price of human rights in China is much higher than a lunch at the White House. Too bad that's all the Bush administration is willing to pay.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter David Kootnikoff

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