Hu’s On First: It’s China-U.S. Summit Time

Hu Jintao. Photo: www.kremlin.ru.

Hu Jintao. Photo: www.kremlin.ru. (CC)

On the eve of the Chinese President’s visit to the United States, and the intense speculation about his intentions—and ours—I found myself a dark room at the Anthology Film Archive in New York’s East Village watching a spectacular documentary by Chinese filmmaker Zhao Liang called Petition.

It’s about the tens of thousands of people with grievances who seek redress in China at offices ostensibly set up to resolve their problems.

The right to petition is guaranteed by the Chinese Constitution—yes China has a Constitution, but it is unevenly enforced like our own. Falun Gong first tried, but failed, to bring its human rights claims to a Petition office like the bureaucratic centers shown in the film as do a small army of individuals who every day, bravely—sometimes fanatically—insist it is their human right to be heard.  (In Falun Gong’s case, they were outlawed and systematically repressed for more than a decade with a large cost of lives.)

Listen to the description of Petition:

“Since 1996, Zhao has documented the ‘petitioners’ who come from all over China to make complaints in Beijing about abuses committed by their local authorities. Gathered near the complaint offices, living in most cases in makeshift shelters, the complainants wait for months or years to obtain justice. Peasants thrown off their land, workers from factories which have gone into liquidation, small homeowners who have seen their houses demolished but received no compensation, they pursue justice with unceasing stubbornness, facing the most brutal intimidation and most often finding that their hopes are in vain.”

Before you put this down just to the authoritarianism and insensitivity in China, remember the song “before you ’cuse me, take a look at yourself.”

Think of all the Americans who get nowhere fighting their City Halls or battling denials of claims by health insurance companies or foreclosures by banks.  Think of the vast growth in poverty and the persistence of high unemployment. Think of the millions of Americans behind bars.  We have no petition office which I am sure must resolve some issues even if the film didn’t show that!

Our systems may be different but some of the top down ways our rulers operate are the same. Now, our two governments are about to sit down with each other to discuss common problems and stubborn differences.

“The U.S.-China summit this week could rank among the most pivotal in history,” writes Leslie Gelb who went from the New York Times to the Council on Foreign Relations to the appropriately named Daily Beast. “Presidents Barack Obama and Hu Jintao can either find fresh ways to work out increasing differences, or they can settle for friendly gasbag rhetoric that will bow to their mutual and mounting hawkish pressures. But failure to compromise on tough economic and security issues will have dangerous consequences for both leaders.”

Elite journalists tend to worry more about the tenure of elites then the well being the people. Yet, when you think about US-China relations, its not just governments that are wrestling over policy.

For example, whenever Washington summons up the courage to criticize China’s dismal and repressive human rights record, Beijing fires back with the scorecard of US police abuses and mass incarceration. They report regularly on Obama’s backpedaling on human rights here.

(And know well that the summit is being carefully stage managed by lower level officials on both sides who have already come up with some compromises that each side can use to show how flexible and responsive they are. Each side must save face after all.

In case you haven’t noticed, the world has changed with China’s economy growing faster and doing better—at least for now—than ours.

Money represents real power in this world, and ours seems to be declining while theirs is in the ascendancy.

China’s President Hu Jintao is sending contradictory signals. In one conciliatory statement, he called for the US and China to work out their mutual problems. He sounded reasonable and friendly.

“There is no denying that there are some differences and sensitive issues between us,” Hu told American newspapers, “We both stand to gain from a sound China-U.S. relationship, and lose from confrontation.”

At the same time, the Chinese are freaking out Wall Street and its cadre of henchmen in Washington by questioning the future of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. Even as China’s investments in America’s bonds and other financial instruments has become essential for our well being and perhaps China’s as well, there are many in Beijing who don’t like the dependence on an American system that has lost them money and independence of action.

All countries have their own interests although the United States likes to pretend that everything we want is in the world’s interest. Our PR may be better but our global image is severely tarnished by our wars and the WikiLeaks disclosures.

The US has been pressing the Chinese to revalue its currency for years. The Chinese often sound as if they will—but, in the end, they haven’t because to do so would hurt their economy and spark more unemployment.

Now Congress is getting into the act to add pressure on Beijing.  AP reports, “Three US senators announced plans Monday to renew their effort  to penalize China for what they term currency “manipulation,” on the eve of  a state visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao.

“Our message to President Hu is, ‘Welcome to America, but we want to make sure we have a fair trading system,'” said Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, who joined fellow Democrats Charles Schumer and Bob Casey in the announcement.

The bill to be introduced in the new Congress would “vigorously address currency misalignments that unfairly and negatively impact US trade,” the three said in a joint statement.”

China will not be moved by this pressure move. They don’t like being bullied and have their own grievances with our economic polices including US cases filed against China at the World Trade Organization that they view as invalid and protectionist, as sops used for domestic political considerations.

The fact is that all of these get China maneuvers will not achieve what most Americans want more jobs. Writes Harvard Law Professor Mark Wu, it  “is unlikely that a stronger renminbi would bring many jobs back home. Instead, companies would most likely shift labor-intensive production to Vietnam, Indonesia and other low-wage countries. And in any case many high-skilled jobs will continue to flow overseas, as long as cheaper talent can be found in India and elsewhere. Only in a few industries, like biomedical devices, would a stronger Chinese currency combined with quality issues tempt American companies to keep more manufacturing at home.”

Meanwhile, China is well aware of how to “win friends” in the US, as Reuters reports:

“The Chinese government kicked off a four-day U.S. trade mission on Monday by signing six deals in Houston with undisclosed U.S. companies worth $600 million, according to Chinese state media reports.

The deals came a day before Chinese President Hu Jintao arrives in the  United States for a visit being billed as the most important U.S.-China  summit since Deng Xiaoping’s visit to Washington 30 years ago.”

The future of our relations is not just dependent on what the leaders say or agree on at Summits.  China is wary of US military power encircling them. They are being forced to spend more money than they want to on naval ships and stealth planes.  This is a country that grew up with Mao’s dictum that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

As the Telegraph noted recently,

“On virtually all the main issues that separate the two nations, (China) seems intransigent and uncompromising. The sense of threat is heightened by the fact that, while America is gripped by economic, social and political self-doubt, the Chinese have never been more certain of their ascendancy.”

It may be that both countries are shakier than we think. There may be no economic recovery in the United States for five years while some Hedge Funds fear, “China is a bubble close to bursting.”  Reports another article in the Telegraph, “The world is looking to China as a springboard out of recession – but some hedge funds are betting the country’s credit and growth levels cannot be sustained.”

So far, neither Washington nor Beijing have realized the apocalyptic projections of their many critics. Both states still pay lip service to their ideal, but both can be unraveling.

A fancy State Dinner will not bridge the gaps that separate our two countries and “paths of development,” as the Chinese say.

The US says it wants more democracy in China but officials like Tim Geithner are upset by the debates taking place there, and pine for the days when they could deal with a dictator like Mao or Deng who, as the New York Times explained, “commanded basically unquestioned authority.”

Our leaders prefer dealing with that type of authority and wish they had it here.”

Back in Beijing, in the shabby Petition Villages where Chinese citizens soldier on in their fight for justice, or in this country where our citizens are frustrated and angry with an economic crisis appears to have no end, no one will expect much from this summit in faraway Washington where diplomatic dances produce kabuki plays filled with smiles but no real changes.

Filmmaker and News Dissector Danny Schechter edits Mediachannel.org.
For more on his film Plunder: The Crime of Our Time and companion book The Crime Of Our Time: Why Wall Street Is Not Too Big To Jail, visit plunderthecrimeofourtime.com.

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  • Anonymous

    I don’t often see an in-depth discussion of China’s vulnerability’s, and the limited maneuvering room that it gives them, in mainstream the U.S. press.

    I’ll have to admit that I know only a handful of the relevant facts myself, but they do throw into relief for me a country with very real historical reasons for anxiety in dealing with the outside world, and a depressing lack of economically viable policy options.

    I get the impression that, relative to its population’s size, they’ve got fuck-all for natural resources, and the type of lagging physical and social infrastructure that this implies. Their experience with Western colonialism has given them a deep, deep suspicion of our reliability.

    On the plus side, their long memories also tend to make them less hair-triggered emotionalists than the typical or stereotypical Westerner. If they believe that the West are hypocritical and not to be completely trusted, they accept that all nations have their biases and there are historical reasons for them.

    That’s a generalization based on a very, very small sample of my personal relations with Chinese persons, and I understand that they may well represent some segment of the elite rather than some type of representative picture of the average Chinese citizen.

    And I also suspect that there are deep, deep regional divisions within China that, far from being resolved by the current boom, may become exacerbated by it. Historically, I believe that granting of enormous local autonomy to provincial bosses, a type of authority that became morally and legally unacceptable in the U.S. after T. Roosevelt and civil service reform, was one of the key strategies of maintaining a working national government. Having a deep, deep pragmatist, rather than moralist, streak in their political culture, keeping these types of central government demands to a bare minimum was one way they headed off outright rebellion.

    So, in my current imagination, I see Hu coming to the U.S. with EXTREMELY limited room to move on any U.S. demands, and a very volatile series of relationships at home that he cannot afford to alienate. Those relationships might seem bizarre or even corrupt from the outside, but that doesn’t mean Hu can afford to ignore or neglect them.

    Wages in China are something like half as large a percentage of GDP as they are in the U.S. Combine this with what I perceive (love to be corrected if I’m wrong) to be severe resource and infrastructure shortfalls of their own, China is basically forced into an export economy. They have a helluva long way to go before they can develop a domestic market anywhere near as strong as the Wests’.

    And the clock is ticking. Cause although their population is enormous compared to our own, it is aging due to the 1-child policy. The window open to them to pursue the export economy that they may see as their only hope is closing.

  • Liam_McGonagle

    I don’t often see an in-depth discussion of China’s vulnerability’s, and the limited maneuvering room that it gives them, in mainstream the U.S. press.

    I’ll have to admit that I know only a handful of the relevant facts myself, but they do throw into relief for me a country with very real historical reasons for anxiety in dealing with the outside world, and a depressing lack of economically viable policy options.

    I get the impression that, relative to its population’s size, they’ve got fuck-all for natural resources, and the type of lagging physical and social infrastructure that this implies. Their experience with Western colonialism has given them a deep, deep suspicion of our reliability.

    On the plus side, their long memories also tend to make them less hair-triggered emotionalists than the typical or stereotypical Westerner. If they believe that the West are hypocritical and not to be completely trusted, they accept that all nations have their biases and there are historical reasons for them.

    That’s a generalization based on a very, very small sample of my personal relations with Chinese persons, and I understand that they may well represent some segment of the elite rather than some type of representative picture of the average Chinese citizen.

    And I also suspect that there are deep, deep regional divisions within China that, far from being resolved by the current boom, may become exacerbated by it. Historically, I believe that granting of enormous local autonomy to provincial bosses, a type of authority that became morally and legally unacceptable in the U.S. after T. Roosevelt and civil service reform, was one of the key strategies of maintaining a working national government. Having a deep, deep pragmatist, rather than moralist, streak in their political culture, keeping these types of central government demands to a bare minimum was one way they headed off outright rebellion.

    So, in my current imagination, I see Hu coming to the U.S. with EXTREMELY limited room to move on any U.S. demands, and a very volatile series of relationships at home that he cannot afford to alienate. Those relationships might seem bizarre or even corrupt from the outside, but that doesn’t mean Hu can afford to ignore or neglect them.

    Wages in China are something like half as large a percentage of GDP as they are in the U.S. Combine this with what I perceive (love to be corrected if I’m wrong) to be severe resource and infrastructure shortfalls of their own, China is basically forced into an export economy. They have a helluva long way to go before they can develop a domestic market anywhere near as strong as the Wests’.

    And the clock is ticking. Cause although their population is enormous compared to our own, it is aging due to the 1-child policy. The window open to them to pursue the export economy that they may see as their only hope is closing.

  • Jimjim

    I love disinfo, but this is almost unreadable.

    “The fact is that all of these get China maneuvers will not achieve what most Americans want more jobs.”

    Seriously? Not the single dubiously worded phrase, but certainly notable.

  • Jimjim

    I love disinfo, but this is almost unreadable.

    “The fact is that all of these get China maneuvers will not achieve what most Americans want more jobs.”

    Seriously? Not the single dubiously worded phrase, but certainly notable.

    • Liam_McGonagle

      Um, not so dubious:

      http://voices.washingtonpost.com/44/2011/01/harry-reid-calls-hu-jintao-a-d.html

      I’m not gonna claim to be an expert on China, but surely you are not either. And you cannot deny that there are substantial reasons for believing that China has little ability to make the changes to its policy that are being called for.

      Let’s put the blame where the blame belongs: Short-sighted, dumbass faux conservatives who’ve pissed away America’s industrial base in the name of a casino-style economy based on continual taxpayer bailouts of the unproductive finance sector. If China is no saint, the U.S. is STILL some kinda horrible fucked-up sinner.

  • EAGD

    Wondered how long it would be before I saw a “Hu’s on First” headline. Didn’t expect it here though…

  • EAGD

    Wondered how long it would be before I saw a “Hu’s on First” headline. Didn’t expect it here though…

  • Liam_McGonagle

    Um, not so dubious:

    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/44/2011/01/harry-reid-calls-hu-jintao-a-d.html

    I’m not gonna claim to be an expert on China, but surely you are not either. And you cannot deny that there are substantial reasons for believing that China has little ability to make the changes to its policy that are being called for.

    Let’s put the blame where the blame belongs: Short-sighted, dumbass faux conservatives who’ve pissed away America’s industrial base in the name of a casino-style economy based on continual taxpayer bailouts of the unproductive finance sector. If China is no saint, the U.S. is STILL some kinda horrible fucked-up sinner.

  • Ironaddict06

    President Hu is probably there telling BHO, “Now you have seen our new Stealth Fighters, You buy Chinese or We attack. Hahahah.”

  • Ironaddict06

    President Hu is probably there telling BHO, “Now you have seen our new Stealth Fighters, You buy Chinese or We attack. Hahahah.”

  • Ironaddict06

    President Hu is probably there telling BHO, “Now you have seen our new Stealth Fighters, You buy Chinese or We attack. Hahahah.”

  • Anonymous

    Look at the hand folks, Uncle Tom Obama the magician wants you to focus on the hand, the dog and pony diplomacy show, whilst you forget about being irradiated and groped at airports, whilst torture continues, whilst two for profit wars run by the CIA and the military industrial complex continue, forget about Israel with the support of US military industrialists trying to start a third war with Iran at US taxpayer expense just focus on the profit for the Koch(head) brothers and Saudi oil interests when the Iranian oil supply is cut off.
    If course don’t even start to think about product imported from China by US companies for massive profits, all based upon not adhering to reasonable laws and regulations, minimum wage, paid overtime, safe working conditions, preventing environmental pollution, reasonable local, state and federal tax (no tax holidays), besides Uncle Tom Obama promised to look into those pesky regulations and bring those jobs back home, catch is US workers are to be as ruthlessly exploited as workers in China (no one has managed to figure who will but those products when everyone is paid 65 cents per hours or less).

  • rtb61

    Look at the hand folks, Uncle Tom Obama the magician wants you to focus on the hand, the dog and pony diplomacy show, whilst you forget about being irradiated and groped at airports, whilst torture continues, whilst two for profit wars run by the CIA and the military industrial complex continue, forget about Israel with the support of US military industrialists trying to start a third war with Iran at US taxpayer expense just focus on the profit for the Koch(head) brothers and Saudi oil interests when the Iranian oil supply is cut off.
    If course don’t even start to think about product imported from China by US companies for massive profits, all based upon not adhering to reasonable laws and regulations, minimum wage, paid overtime, safe working conditions, preventing environmental pollution, reasonable local, state and federal tax (no tax holidays), besides Uncle Tom Obama promised to look into those pesky regulations and bring those jobs back home, catch is US workers are to be as ruthlessly exploited as workers in China (no one has managed to figure who will but those products when everyone is paid 65 cents per hours or less).

  • emperorreagan

    I think this article on China is pretty interesting: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2043235,00.html?hpt=T2

    Personally, I think the biggest reason that the United States is in probably a terminal decline is the stupidity of trying to apply free market solutions to everything – one of China’s biggest advantages is not being forced by some misguided ideology to apply the same economic solution to everything. Funny that a Marxist nation seems to have a better grasp of “mixed-economy” than the US.

  • emperorreagan

    I think this article on China is pretty interesting: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2043235,00.html?hpt=T2

    Personally, I think the biggest reason that the United States is in probably a terminal decline is the stupidity of trying to apply free market solutions to everything – one of China’s biggest advantages is not being forced by some misguided ideology to apply the same economic solution to everything. Funny that a Marxist nation seems to have a better grasp of “mixed-economy” than the US.

    • Liam_McGonagle

      Amen!

  • Liam_McGonagle

    Amen!

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