Xi’s Visit Offers Little Promise for Reform

February 17, 2012 Updated: August 14, 2015

WASHINGTON—The People’s Republic of China’s Vice Chairman Xi Jinping will wrap up his official visit to the United States on Friday—a visit that may have raised more questions than answers.

The goal of the Obama administration was aiming to get to know Xi and to build a strong personal relationship with him: Xi is not yet in power but is destined to be the Chinese regime’s next leader, possibly for the next decade.

China watchers say the “getting to know” process may be an advantage to have out of the way, come 2013 when an already tense U.S.-China relationship may become more complex, but how much an American can know what a leader will do in communist China remains to be seen.

In gauging the potential leader of the CCP, Dan Blumenthal, China analyst at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) said, “No one really knows who Xi is and what he stands for.”

He noted U.S. officials were hopeful China’s present leader, Hu Jintao, would be a reformer when he visited the United States as China’s vice chairman a decade ago. While Hu has overseen China’s economic growth, he has also presided over harsh crackdowns on freedom of speech, unfair trade practices, and a considerable deterioration of human rights.

U.S. administrations had since given up on Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jibao in regard to reform, said Blumenthal, adding that they are now looking at the more “cosmopolitan” Xi. But Blumenthal is skeptical, saying that under a communist government the idea of reform is very different from that of the United States.

He sees more factional infighting occurring in China now and expanded influence by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

“I don’t see that Xi and his ilk are reformers,” Blumenthal said.

Basketball and Rights

Xi is scheduled to speak at a China-U.S. Economic Trade Forum in Los Angeles on Friday and will be joined again by Vice President Joe Biden, who had spent some time with Xi in China last year, and is his formal host during his time in the United States.

Xi will conclude his visit with attending a basketball game played between the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Lakers.

During his visit, Xi has been on the defensive regarding human rights. Among the hot-button issues is Taiwan—the PRC claims possession of the island off its coast, a position opposed by most Taiwanese. The United States is committed to defend Taiwan against a PRC invasion.

Xi raised the Taiwan issue at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce lunch in Washington on Wednesday, saying the United States should abide by the “one China” principle and take “concrete actions to oppose Taiwanese independence.” He also referred to Tibet, proposing the United States respect Chinese claims to sovereignty over Tibet.

Vice President Biden had met with four prominent human rights experts preceding Xi’s visit, releasing a statement noting the deterioration of human rights in China. He reiterated America’s human rights concerns publicly in a lunch he hosted for Xi, but rights groups and activists believe the United States should be doing more.

Threat of Oppression

Chinese dissident, Dr. Yang Jianli, says the United States should not tolerate the regime’s brutality towards the Chinese people.

“A regime that oppresses its own people will eventually pose a real threat to the world,” he told The Epoch Times.

Dr. Yang was among the hundreds who protested outside the White House during Xi’s visit Feb. 14—the protestors included groups of Tibetans, Taiwanese, Falun Gong practitioners, and Uighurs.

Dr. Yang had little hope that Xi would bring change to China, pointing to the groups and saying, “The violation of human rights in China is ubiquitous, it is everywhere … it is not acceptable. That is my message to Obama and Biden.”

Ellen Bork, from the D.C.-based pro-democracy organization the Foreign Policy Initiative, believes “the visit should never have taken place.”

Speaking at the AEI forum, she said the U.S. response to the sorts of abuses incurred by people in China “has not been adequate for the circumstances.” Bork, formerly with Freedom House, believes the “over-personalized” form of engagement is more about “process” than “substance.”

She would like to see less of the high-level person-to-person relationships, favoring more people-to-people contact.

Derek Scissors, China analyst at the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, said if there was one positive that came out of Xi Jinping’s trip, it was his visit to Iowa and Los Angeles.

Scissors believes the United States suffers from a lack of coherent strategy toward China, and in that respect has been unable to make progress on China-U.S. trade and economic concerns, including currency exchange, trade infringements, intellectual property theft, and cyber security.

Until there is a focus on the priorities, he believes the relationship will wallow in platitudes and ineffective policy.

However, “broadening the relationship away from the beltway and ring roads in China is a positive,” he says, allowing regional centers both here and in China to negotiate directly.

Iowa may vouch for that: During his visit there, Xi announced plans to purchase $4.3 billion worth of U.S. soybeans, making it the largest such deal to date.