The Chinese often speak in numbers, as in the "four pillars of destiny," Mao's "five-anti" campaign, or the Three Gorges Dam. (That was the Three-Examples List.)
In this spirit, here is the Four Things to Watch For list to help anyone who might be watching the Jan. 18-21 visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to the United States (notice they also all start with "B" – which also helps in remembering them):
1. Bonding buddies: How cozy have President Obama and President Hu become after their many summits? Personal relations matter in diplomacy, even more so as these two giant countries try not to clash with each other. Will they smile at each other, stand close, share intimacies? First names, perhaps? (Or is it last names, in China?)
2. Big protocol oops: Hu's last official visit in 2006 was marred by at least two incidents. An interpreter mistakenly announced the Chinese national anthem as that of the "Republic of China," the official name of Taiwan. Then, in a White House press conference, a Chinese dissident raised a flag of protest. Similar mistakes this time would force Hu to lose face as he prepares to leave office next year.
3. Bearing gifts: In Chinese tradition, Hu will likely come bearing gifts. He already gave one: a promise of closer military-to-military ties made during the recent visit to China by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Gifts during Hu's visit may simply be the dozens of business contracts expected to be signed with American firms on his trip to Chicago. Why is that such a gift? Well, Obama is looking for job creation, right? And by the way, China needs to deflect criticism in Congress about its currency manipulation and export subsidies.
4. Bring it home: The closing moments of such state visits usually include a joint press conference and a joint statement. Will the two men have more agreements than disagreements – on North Korea, currency, Taiwan, climate change, security issues, etc.? Or no joint statement at all (unlikely)? How will Hu handle questions from the troublesome American press? Will Obama (the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate) embarrass his guest by mentioning jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo (the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate)?
There, see how numbering things makes its easy to get a handle on important stuff? Maybe this state visit by Hu will be as simple as 1-2-3.