US President George W. Bush's 40-hour Beijing trip produced few tangible results, suggesting all is not well in the way the US and China manage their ties, analysts said yesterday.
"US-China relations may have taken, if not a step backwards, then at least a step sideways," said Russell Leigh Moses, an American academic teaching future diplomats at the People's University in Beijing.
"The Chinese are trying to spin this as if Sino-US relations have moved into a new era, but I just think in fact there's a sort of stalemate, because the major issues have really not been confronted," he said.
On the festering trade issue, China merely promised Bush it would seek to reduce its bulging surplus with the US, without announcing real steps, echoing earlier pledges of a similar nature that have not led very far.
On human rights, religious freedom and democracy, the tacit message from the Chinese hosts was they will not yield, analysts said.
Bush may have wanted to go to China mainly for domestic reasons, in order to show his fellow Americans that he can talk tough on sensitive matters such as trade and religion.
Now comes the awkward epilogue, as he returns to Washington with virtually no Chinese concessions, according to analysts.
"Without having anything to say, his administration is going to downplay this trip," said Moses.
In what could be a major problem for the prospects of Washington's diplomacy with China in the near term, Beijing is increasingly viewing Bush as a leader unable to move bilateral ties substantially forward, some observers said.
"It's not wasted time, but nearly so," Paul Harris, an expert on US foreign policy at Hong Kong's Lingnan University, said of the visit.
"The Chinese probably consider this an unnecessary meeting. One has to have it from time to time. They're probably looking forward to a future president who they can really do business with and take more seriously," he said.
Bush relies on face-to-face meetings with foreign leaders much more than any other US president in recent times.
He seeks direct encounters not just to gauge their personal characters, but also to guess their future policies, according to Harris and other observers.
"The process of that dialogue is very important," said Bonnie Glaser, an analyst with the Center for International and Strategic Studies in Washington. "There is really no substitution [for Bush] for the engagement between two leaders to explain our respective countries' priorities."
But a vital problem in Sino-US ties is that Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao (
"Sometimes you can't establish personal relations because they are different people," said Shi Yinhong (
"It's difficult to imagine Bush and Hu having a very close, intimate personal relationship," Shi said.
This may partly account for the meager list of concrete results that Bush could take with him as he left Beijing.