Honesty may not always be the best policy in politics, but when it comes to an emerging superpower with a very different view of governing, President Barack Obama might want to be more up-front. That’s according to international award-winning Towson University history professor Steve Phillips.
The Asian studies expert’s op-ed in The Baltimore Sun titled “Obama-Xi summit shows the danger of personal diplomacy” says Obama can’t expect the same degree of success after his talks with Chinese president Xi Jinping as former president Richard Nixon’s triumph after his first visit to China. In fact, Phillips says, no president since Nixon has scored so high.
It’s not just because politics have changed. It’s because China has gotten much stronger in the last 40 years. The nation is now in the midst of an industrial revolution that pushes it forward as a global power, regardless of its political system. And its new president insists that the U.S. and other nations must accept the Communist Party’s “core interests,” whether they like those interests or not.
“Mr. Obama needs a foreign policy and public relations victory more urgently than Mr. Xi,” writes Phillips. “Mr. Obama is mired in a slew of scandals … Since Mr. Xi became president in March 2013, he has rapidly consolidated his power and faces no significant rivals at home.”
Phillips points out that eight hours of face-to-face meetings between the two leaders last weekend did little to satisfy a long-wary American public. The U.S. accuses China of cybercrimes—stealing intellectual property and plans for American fighter jets, hacking that rises to the level of national security risk—but the meeting provided little progress there. Human rights violations have long stirred American outrage, yet immediately after the meetings, China sentenced imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo’s brother-in-law to 11 years behind bars for real estate fraud. That’s despite what defense attorneys called a lack of evidence and inconsistent testimony from the victim.
“President Obama would be better served by not raising hopes that personal diplomacy will lead to dramatic breakthroughs,” Phillips writes. “He should speak frankly to the American people about growing tensions with Beijing.”
As Phillips describes, there were two agreements to speak of that came from last weekend’s meetings: reducing the production of hydrofluorocarbon gas that contributes to global warming and preventing a nuclear North Korea. So that’s something.