China Ink

A non-event

No breakthroughs, but Chinese media hails Sino-US talks as a great success. American press meanwhile wonders what exactly was achieved.

Who turned up?

The Chinese media was rather pleased at the size of the visiting group, with more than 200 US officials making the trip. President Obama wasn’t amongst them but at least 50 ministerial level appointments were on the ground in Beijing. A fifty-car cavalcade was required to get them between meetings.

Still, that did not mean that the Chinese side was prepared to play second fiddle. “The size of the Chinese delegation will certainly be larger than the US delegation because China is the host,” assistant Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao announced at a pre-event briefing.

The Wall Street Journal wondered if so many really needed to travel to Beijing, given the trip’s rather meagre achievements. But it recognised that much of the focus was on providing a “homey touch”. So Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner played basketball with local high-school students before blushing his way through television questions about being “one of the best looking guys in the administration”. Hillary Clinton then announced that her daughter’s upcoming wedding was “the most important thing” in her life, before agreeing with Chen Luyu of Phoenix TV that good-looker Tim really did have “great hair”. In a further diplomatic revelation she told her Chinese interviewer “He always looks so good, you know? It’s maddening.”

Who gave ground?

“China, US reach consensus on currency rate reform” was the China Daily headline. But this particular consensus seems to have been a Chinese one – that Beijing will chart its own course on currency reform. Geithner’s response – any change in policy “is, of course, China’s choice” – was quoted approvingly too.

The Global Times wanted more leeway to fight the country’s corner. Naturally, “Americans are entitled to deliver their complaints”. But the Chinese people have been “simmering with anger” in recent months, and want to be heard too.

Geithner did his best to lobby against Chinese rules that give preference to locally developed tech products, said the New York Times.

But there was no sign of Chinese concessions on the exchange rate, the international media admitted. At least the Obama administration now realised that it was counter-productive to push the Chinese publicly, although Geithner still did his best to sound upbeat, telling Bloomberg that he was “as confident as I’ve ever been” that China was moving towards a revaluation.

What got done?

Not much, thought Century Weekly, which asked if a working team was needed to follow up on the topics under discussion. Otherwise it didn’t expect a two-day event to achieve much.

But generally the Chinese media thought progress had been made in relationship terms – with China treated as a superpower equal. The Global Times opted for a metaphor. Think of the US-Sino relationship like a “bicycle built for two”, it told readers. “Taking it slow is tricky but safer than riding at high speeds”.

Western media asked more questions about the deliverables from the Dialogue meetings. The Wall Street Journal said the State Department was prepared, and issued a list of 26 outcomes, from new safety agreements on nuclear reactors through to plans for a Chinese garden at the National Arboretum in Washington.

But the fact that the two sides could complete more than 100 hours of talks was a success in its own right, the BBC believed, especially after a period of strained relations.


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