Two world leaders, Pope Francis and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), visited the US at the same time. During their visits, the leaders have been exhibiting very different leadership styles: One is outwardly strong and internally weak, while the other is the exact opposite.
The US welcomed the two leaders in different ways: The pope was greeted by US President Barack Obama and his family in Washington, while Xi, arriving on the same day, chose to enter the nation through Seattle, where he presided over an order of 300 planes from Boeing and met with some of the leaders of the US technology industry.
During his visit, the pope remained close to the public, was met with large crowds of people wherever he went and held Mass for almost 1 million people — a perfect example of soft power.
Xi took an entirely different approach, returning to the traditional style of past Chinese leaders, following up on late leader Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) rhetoric about China keeping a low profile and biding its time, as well as the rise of China as a world power and the demand of a great power relationship with the US.
As China’s military, diplomatic and economic power continue to grow, neighboring and other concerned countries feel pressured. China is making an effort to help and co-opt smaller countries, but that also produces a backlash. People in Hong Kong and Taiwan are growing more distant from Beijing, while Japan is reinforcing its defenses and nations in the vicinity of the South China Sea are feeling insecure.
Regarding Taiwan, Obama insisted on sticking to the Three Communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act. In his addresses, Xi did not mention Taiwan, but in its reports on the meeting between Xi and Obama, the Xinhua news agency lumped Taiwanese, Tibetan and Xinjiang independence together and said that the agreement was opposed to all three.
Similar reports did not appear in official US outlets. One possibility is that Xi mentioned the independence issue at the meeting and Obama either disagreed with him or did not respond at all. Another possibility is that the Chinese side added the statement to the news reports because it wanted to add it to Xi’s list of achievements during the visit.
Beijing’s decision to add opposition to Taiwanese, Tibetan and Xinjiang independence to the agreement shows that China is aware of the dissatisfaction in these three places and therefore wants to use US support to strengthen Xi’s domestic position as he suppresses dissidents, curtails freedom of expression, silences intellectuals and arrests human rights lawyers under the guise of fighting corruption.
Although Xi’s concentration of power seems to have been successful, there has also been quite a backlash. The addition of the anti-independence statement makes it clear that China is concerned about the domestic situation.
Obama and Xi had many items on their agendas prior the meeting, but there is a great difference between their positions and interests, which means that they could only reach a limited agreement. The two sides signed an Internet security agreement, including a commitment to take action against attacks on companies and financial institutions. In terms of climate change, China, in addition to pledging to initiate a national plan to restrict emissions, announced that it would allocate 20 billion yuan (US$3.14 billion) to assist other countries to move away from carbon-based fuels.
The US was unwilling to discuss the new great power relationship suggested by China. Judging from the outcome of the talks, while they do not regard each other as enemies, the two sides also do not see each other as best of friends. The interests of the two sides might differ, but they must find ways to work together. This is the reality of their relationship.
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