US, China face 'trust deficit' as China's heir apparent visits
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, China's likely leader for the next decade, will meet President Obama this week, as well as make trips to Iowa and California.
It is clearly not the prospect that Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping may sign a deal to buy more American soybeans that lends significance to his US tour this week.Skip to next paragraph
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Instead, this is a mood-setting visit, giving President Obama a chance to take the measure of the man most likely to lead China for the next 10 years, and offering Mr. Xi an opportunity to get a better feel for America.
The trip is also important to Xi for his own political reasons. He is generally expected to become the head of the ruling Communist party next autumn, and to take over the Chinese presidency early next year.
“His capacity to deal with the US in a way that induces respect and to show that he can handle the US effectively … is extremely important” to his peers in Beijing, says Kenneth Lieberthal, director of the China Center at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
And as the US and China clash over a wide range of political and economic issues, “their two leaders need to feel they have a good read on each other at a personal and political level,” Professor Lieberthal adds.
Officials and analysts on both sides of the Pacific point to a fundamental flaw in the most important bilateral relationship in the world: Neither side trusts the other.
“The trust deficit sums up a very clear fact,” Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai said here last week. “The level of mutual trust between China and the United States lags behind what is required for the further expansion of our bilateral relationship. Vice President Xi’s visit will present a very important opportunity to further enhance our mutual trust.”
Iran, currency, South China Sea
The list of policy issues over which Beijing and Washington differ is long and varied. It includes how to handle Iran’s nuclear program, the value of the Chinese currency, the Renminbi, how to deal with the Syrian government, trade disputes, investment opportunities for US firms in China and the roles both sides want to play in the South China Sea.
“The relationship is not in good shape and there is a lot of competition in various spheres,” says David Shambaugh, a China expert at George Washington University in Washington.
Neither side expects any breakthroughs from Xi’s talks at the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon, and Congress. Xi is still only the vice president, his portfolio does not include foreign affairs, and he will not want to make any compromises that might make him appear soft on Washington before his accession to the pinnacle of power.