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In China, anything is possible. Nothing is easy.
It’s now referred to by U.S. officials as “a mature relationship,” that is “broad and deep.” As such, it’s become a little boring. Throughout the tenure of President George W. Bush, U.S.-China ties became more about trade and cash than emotional issues like human rights. Phone calls and meetings between the leaders of the two countries are no longer rare, nor are state visits.
“These two countries are joined at the hip, on many levels,” said David Shambaugh of George Washington University, a long-time scholar of U.S.-China ties.
With President Barack Obama arriving next week for his first visit, experts say it’s about him seeing China firsthand, and China seeing that it can trust him.
What you will see:
The Obama visit is likely to be long on symbolism, throwing the weight of the president behind his team of trade and political negotiators who work in and with China year-round. His presence will reassure China’s top-down government that the points and issues repeatedly brought forward by the administration are coming from the top. Also important symbolically: A weakened America meeting a strong China. The U.S. is no longer in a position to scold.
Of interest will be how Chinese people react to the new American president. Thus far, general reaction has been quite tepid compared to elsewhere in the world. There isn’t a big anti-Obama movement in China, but neither is he adored like a rock star.
Obama flies into Shanghai from Singapore late on Sunday evening, and is tentatively scheduled to meet with university students there Monday. Questions remain, however, about the format of the discussion and whether Obama will be allowed to speak to the students in a town hall format, without a filter.
He departs for Beijing on Monday evening, where he has meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. On Tuesday, Obama and Hu will meet the press in a joint news conference. Also on the schedule — which reportedly has not been finalized — are a state dinner, a tour of the Forbidden City in Beijing and a trip to the Great Wall.
What you won’t see:
The visit, experts say, is not likely to produce any serious breakthroughs or major announcements. The possibility, of course, does exist. But most of the main issues up for discussion — trade tensions, the value of China’s currency, climate change, Tibet and human rights among them — are long-term, ongoing areas of debate and negotiation. None are likely to be solved or inflamed significantly on this visit.
But the expected dearth of big announcements shouldn’t indicate this is not a work trip. To underscore that Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Energy Secretary Steven Chu will also be in China with the delegation, speaking and meeting on their own issues and continuing the ever-growing dialogue between the two nations.
What you might see:
Though the United States and China are more deeply and broadly connected probably than ever before, there is still plenty of room for language and cultural misunderstandings. In the lead-up to Obama’s visit, we’ve seen two: