Blind Date: United States and China

While millions of couples prepared for romantic Valentine’s Day dinners, Chinese and American diplomats got dressed up for a high-stakes date of their own, hoping to mend what has recently seemed a shaky relationship.

China’s vice-president, Xi Jinping, arrived in Washington on February 13, kicking off his week-long visit to the United States.

The two parties had every reason to be nervous ahead of the meeting. Ten days earlier, China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution to stop what has been called genocide in Syria, sparking outrage from the international community and the United States in particular.

The veto adds to an already tense mood between the world’s two largest economies.  Last year, US lawmakers tried passing a new tax on Chinese imports, suspicious that China was purposefully devaluing the Yuan to gain the upper hand in trade.

Those issues, along with human rights concerns, had set the stage for Xi’s visit.

The day after his arrival, Xi met with US President Obama and Vice-President Biden in the White House. In a cordial tone, Obama told reporters that the United States will work to ensure China plays by fair trade rules and improves its human rights record.

“We have tried to emphasize that because of China’s extraordinary development over the last two decades, that with expanding power and prosperity also comes increased responsibility,” Obama said. “It also means that—on critical issues like human rights—we will continue to emphasize the importance of recognizing the human aspirations of all people.”

News media described the meeting as a chance for Americans to “size up” the Chinese president-to-be and get an idea of how future US-Chinese relations may pan out.

Former President Jimmy Carter, who spoke to the World Affairs Council on Jan. 31, has met annually with Mr. Xi for the past three years. During conversations, Xi has told President Carter that China wants the United States to “remain strong and vital,” Carter said in his speech.

Although China wants to increase its influence worldwide, it seems to be seeking to do so in accordance with former leader Deng Xiaoping’s doctrine: “Keep a low profile and never take the lead.”

When asked what advice he would give President Obama on US-China relations, former President Carter said the US should both cooperate and compete peacefully with China whenever possible.

“Last year, the Chinese had 157,000 Chinese students in America. So they are taking every advantage of benefiting from our language, our culture and our education,” President Carter said. “I think we ought to reach out to them on an equal basis—but on an aggressive basis.”

By Daniel Drake, Communications Intern.