As reported by bloomberg, don’t expect any breakthrough deals from this week’s meeting between the U.S. president and China’s leader-in-waiting. In an election year for Barack Obama and Xi Jinping, who is in line to replace President Hu Jintao this fall, the best outcome to hope for is good chemistry.
Given the tensions in the air, that can hardly be assured. Consider Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s stump bluster about how, on his “first day in office,” he will impose tariffs on any Chinese goods that benefit from “unfair trade practices.” Or the more than five dozen pieces of legislation introduced in Congress in 2011 that took up Chinese behavior on everything from rare earth mining to exports of American flags. President Obama himself has occasionally shown a weakness for tough talk. Vice President Xi also has made a few brusque pronouncements on “foreigners with full bellies.”
The feel-good visits planned for Xi to California and Iowa offer one way to rise above such acrimony. For Americans in particular, the latter trip can be instructive. In 1985, Xi visited Iowa when he was a provincial leader in Hebei to honor a sister-state relationship, touring farms and baseball fields and sharing views at the Rotary Club. Then, Xi was eager to learn modern farming techniques. Now, Iowa does roadshows to China to hawk its goods as U.S. growth wanes. Nor is Hebei the backwater it was back then; its economy is bigger than Hong Kong’s. Barring a serious crisis, China’s economy may be bigger than America’s in 10 years.