Former U.S. President Barack Obama concluded his visit to China, India, as well as France last week. During this three-country tour, Obama met with all his former counterparts — Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and French President Emmanuel Macron. Notably, Obama’s trip to Asia took place just weeks after his successor, Donald Trump, made his first appearance in the region. Multiple news outlets thus claimed that Obama had come back to the world stage, but Obama’s tour actually looked more like a mixture of lecture circuit and insignificant private meetups.
During his time in China, Obama first visited Shanghai and attended a business conference organized by Global Alliance of SMEs (a self-proclaimed non-profit multinational non-governmental organization founded by the U.S.-China Exchange Association). At the conference, Obama gave a 20-minute speech to more than 2,500 business people. Shanghaiist.com reported that the event was closed to the media and top tickets “cost a bundle.”
Although the conference organizer didn’t disclose whether it had paid Obama for his appearance this time, it’s widely assumed that a large speaking fee would be paid to such a high-profile former president at this kind of business event.
As Associated Press noted, it is a longstanding tradition for former U.S. presidents — as well as former senior officials — to “attract donations and other support for their foundations, libraries, and presidential centers” through overseas presentations after leaving office. For example, former U.S. President Bill Clinton made $550,000 for one speech to a business forum in Shanghai, China in 2011.
Obama reportedly attended similar invitation-only conferences packed with business leaders in both India and France, too.
Besides these apparent business events, Obama met with his former counterparts in three countries. His meetings with Xi Jinping at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing looked most like a diplomatic event.
Before his trip, Obama’s spokesperson said, “As President, Obama forged a close and cooperative partnership with President Xi on issues ranging from growing the global economy to combating climate change, and he looks forward to catching up with his former counterpart.”
Yet, based on China’s state media, it seemed that Obama didn’t touch upon many meaningful topics during this meeting.
According to China’s state news agency Xinhua, Xi made a “positive appraisal” of Obama’s efforts in promoting China-U.S. relations during his presidency. Xi also briefed Obama on the major outcomes of the recently closed 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. In response, Obama “thanked Xi for meeting with him” and said he “appreciated China’s development achievements.”
Obama said that he will “continue to play a positive role in promoting mutual understanding, exchanges and cooperation between the two countries.”
Ironically, two days after his meeting with Xi, Obama went to India and had a close talk with the Dalai Lama in New Delhi. The Tibetan religious leader commented that his talk with Obama was “very good.”
“I think we are really two old trusted friend[s],” Dalai Lama added.
If Obama were still in office now, Beijing would have issued a strong protest against this meeting.