China Ink

Not your average Joe

Joe Biden met China’s future leader and sought to calm nerves about US debt

A chance to meet Xi…

Joe Biden hadn’t been to China for a while: 32 years, in fact. But this trip was designed to take Sino-US diplomacy to a new level, thought the People’s Daily. Shanghai Daily agreed, pointing out that the itinerary saw Biden meeting Vice-President Xi Jinping “at least five times”, including time for an “informal” dinner in Chengdu. Such access trumped Politburo protocol, especially as Xi is “China’s presumed future leader”. Xinhua also noted that Biden was tellingly invited to Beijing by Xi himself.

Xi Jinping thanked Biden for coming, saying he knew he was “very busy with national affairs at home.” To which the US vice-president replied, “You are our national affairs.”

And The New York Times agreed that “the main purpose of the trip” was for the US to size up China’s expected next leader. New US ambassador to China, Gary Locke, said the two men had developed “a strong personal relationship”.

In our debt?

China Business thought Biden’s arrival a timely one, as a “propaganda mission” designed to persuade the Chinese people that the “US was still really a triple A level country”. The China Daily agreed that Biden’s goal was to persuade Beijing to “continue to invest in US Treasury bonds”.

And Biden was turning on the charm. In one speech, the newspaper noted, he spoke for nearly an hour on China’s economic and social progress.

Biden even remarked that he understood the necessity of the one-child policy, a remark that earned him criticism back home from pro-life Republicans. Biden later backtracked and called the policy “repugnant”. In Japan, he then said of his China trip “I didn’t come to explain a damn thing.”

Inevitably, the subject of America’s debt downgrade was a key topic. The BBC reported that Biden gave a speech to university students in Chengdu in which he said China’s holdings were “safe” and declared that America would never default on its debts. But embarrassingly, he got his numbers wrong in one speech, reported USA Today, when he gaffed that Americans held 85% of US public debt (the actual percentage is 54%).

Still, the visit may have repaired some of the fraying ties between the world’s two biggest economies. Xi’s observation that the US economy was “resilient” was being taken as a vote of confidence in America, wrote the Wall Street Journal, in gratification for Biden’s visit.

Memorable moments

Biden’s PR coup on the trip was taking his granddaughter (and three others) to a simple noodle restaurant in Beijing. The meal cost just Rmb79 but the VP paid Rmb100, tipping for the inconvenience he’d caused. Jinan Daily reported that the noodle shop was now packed with diners asking for the ‘Biden package’, which has also become a new web term, meaning ‘the incorrupt government official package’. Biden’s frugal lunch has been contrasted with China’s bureaucrats love of pricey banquets.

Western media was on the look-out for tension. And the night after Biden watched a basketball match between the Georgetown Hoyas and a local side, the American team was drawn into a brawl at a match with the Shanghai Bayi Rockets. American players could soon be seen on Youtube taking punches from their Chinese opponents. The Wall Street Journal thought the violent imagery “further complicates the already tense relationship” between the US and China.


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