The Debate

Xi Jinping’s Friendly Face

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The Debate

Xi Jinping’s Friendly Face

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping has been presenting a friendly face on his U.S. trip. But tensions remain.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and leader in waiting continued his friendlier face of China tour Wednesday and Thursday, delivering a much awaited policy speech in Washington before heading to Muscatine in Iowa, where he visited as a Communist Party official way back in 1985.

The Iowa visit underscores Chinese efforts to present the prospect of a non-threatening future for Sino-U.S. ties, and certainly having visited the United States five times and with a daughter at Harvard, Xi offers the prospect at least of tackling difficulties more smoothly.

But despite the generally good natured visit, his speech at the Marriott underscored some of the tensions that still exist in the bilateral relationship – tensions that won’t be going away whoever is in charge in Beijing and Washington.

For a start, Xi urged the United States to respect China’s “core interests,” a phrase that has been heard with increasing frequency over thorny issues ranging from Tibet to the South China Sea. Indeed, Xi said the U.S. should oppose those who back independence for Tibet and Taiwan.

The speech came a day after U.S. Vice President Joe Biden offered a list of U.S. complaints about China, but as the New York Times noted, both men were likely playing in part to a domestic audience. The Obama administration is keen to hammer home its message of demanding fair play for a U.S. economy – and by extension U.S. workers/voters – that is finally showing signs of a recovery. Xi, meanwhile, is likely determined to demonstrate that the Communist Party will have no truck with those seeking to break up the country.

Still, Xi also called for deeper “strategic trust” between the U.S. and China, something that Ernest Bower, senior adviser and director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, suggests may be more likely under Xi.

In a briefing released today, Bower notes reports that Xi is a more charismatic leader than Hu Jintao and suggests that Xi’s trip could “set the foundation for the United States and China to begin to understand one another better.”

The U.S. must “convince China that it can grow, prosper, and answer existential questions such as how to manage its energy, food, and water security for the coming decades, the United States decided to join other Asia-Pacific countries in developing regional security and economic frameworks that will encourage China to use its seat at the table to make rules along with others, and to implement and live by those guidelines,” Bower writes.

It’s good advice.