China Ink

Gone to script?

The latest round of high-level Sino-US talks concluded in Beijing last week

Gone to script?

Positive results?

The spin in the Chinese media was positive. “Significant,” said the China Daily. “Concrete and tangible” was Xinhua’s view, while the People’s Daily felt that progress had been “substantial”.

In all, 67 agreements had been reached, it was reported, although the media preference was to highlight sound bites rather than list the new deals individually. A favourite was a Clinton quote on Sino-US ties: “Together we are trying to do something unprecedented: to write a new answer to the age-old question of what happens when the established power and the rising power meet.”

Both sides made efforts to highlight a spirit of cooperation, the international press agreed, although the Wall Street Journal claimed only “modest progress” was made via “handshake” agreements, none of which are binding.

But Ken Lieberthal, a director at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told the International Business Times that the preparation work for the event is as valuable as the final outcome, as the two sides figure out what is on the agenda, and how best to discuss it. This serves a genuine purpose in bringing the two countries closer together, Lieberthal suggested.

So what was achieved?

The Chinese chose to focus on pledges from the Americans to review restrictions on high-tech exports, with reports that more than a quarter of the projects currently held up by US restrictions would soon be getting the green light.

Despite this, Commerce Minister Chen Deming took a believe-it-when-I-see-it approach. “I’m still waiting,” he told reporters. “I hope I will have enough patience and that this day of easing export controls will be not be far off.”

The most specific pledge seems to have come from the Chinese side: allowing foreign companies to up their stakes in joint ventures with Chinese securities firms from 33% to 49%. The media also picked up on indications from the Chinese that they would dismantle some of the financing and regulatory advantages enjoyed by state-owned firms. Although the changes might take years to happen, China had gone “further than ever” in permitting competition with its SOEs, the New York Times thought.

And stuff that wasn’t on the agenda?

Neither side was prepared for the sudden appearance of blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng at the US embassy in Beijing. There were strong words in a China Daily editorial on the US role in events: “It is an inescapable truth that it has made a mistake,” it warned. “For this the US owes an apology to China.” US Ambassador Gary Locke came in for particular criticism from the Beijing Youth Daily. “His attempt to grab eyeballs with gimmicks and performances is a manifestation of hypocrisy and flamboyance often seen in Western politicians,” it fumed.

Dai Bingguo, head of the Chinese delegation, was more circumspect, telling Xinhua that human rights shouldn’t “be a hindrance for state-to-state relations,” as no nation is “perfect” on the issue.

Both sides seem to have been keen to play down the Chen saga, says the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, which also suggested that allowing him to study in the US was probably the best approach to defusing the immediate situation.

Although the crisis was resolved before the full round of talks began, US diplomats must have made a hasty review of their closing scripts, with Clinton’s final press statement insisting that the US would continue to raise human rights concerns.

But she also noted th­­­­at disagreements wouldn’t be allowed to “derail our relationship or hold back our cooperation on the broad range of matters that are of vital importance to our two nations”.

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