Chinese vs. Western media: Two views of Xi Jinping’s visit

As the Chinese press cheers the cooperative spirit adopted by President Xi Jinping, the West remains ambivalent on Xi and his proclaimed goals.

Evan Vucci/AP
President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping arrive for their joint news conference on Friday in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington.

While the Chinese media cheered the cooperative spirit adopted by President Xi Jinping on his first state visit to America, Western media remained skeptical about the leader’s pledges for reform, suggesting a cloud of secrecy still hovers over President Xi’s agenda.

The Sino-American relationship is “more dysfunctional than ever,” wrote Michael Auslin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, in a Fox News op-ed.

“All the right things were said,” Mr. Auslin wrote, “but leaving the biggest impression, was the unavoidable fact that US-China relations are locked into their current pattern of competition and distrust.”

He isn’t the only one to say so. Beneath the predictable exchange of pleasantries is a “confrontational approach” America has been “itching to take,” wrote the Financial Times ahead of Xi’s trip. The New York Times reports that several of China’s top officials are seen as “unapproachable,” even “icy.”

Even Xi's itinerary was telling, some said. The fact that the president would spend more time on his seven-day trip in Seattle, than in Washington, wrote the Financial Times, is “an indication of both the Chinese leader’s interest in repairing ties with corporate America and of the more tepid reception he is likely to receive in the capital.”

Chinese media took a decidedly more optimistic stance. “Mutual trust is still lacking to a certain extent due to a power relationship change,” reported state-run outlet Xinhua the day before the president’s visit. “But the gap between China and the US has narrowed.”

China’s state-run network CCTV described President Xi’s visit as having delivered “a trove of important results.” An article laying out the “outcomes” of his trip read much like the laundry list of achievements posted by the White House on Friday.

Reflecting on the Chinese leader’s speech at a welcome banquet held in his honor in Seattle, CCTV reported:

Xi Jinping did a fine job in addressing US concerns while advocating his views on fostering peaceful and symbiotic relations. He also touched upon important issues including cyber security, corruption, and affirmed that China's economy is in fine fettle.

Xi’s references to American culture, such as the popular television series "House of Cards,"  also “endeared the president to the American public,” CCTV said.

The Wall Street Journal commented that the leader’s use of personal anecdotes struck “a humble tone” and “showed rare flashes of humor.”

Xi was careful in this first address to emphasize the importance of communication between the two governments. “We must read each other's strategic intentions correctly,” he said.

But critics say the Chinese leader’s own intentions are still largely masked, and some question whether he plans on keeping his promises, particularly as they relate to economic reform.

Dean C. Garfield, president of the Information Technology Industry Council remained skeptical about whether China would start leveling the playing field for foreign companies, according to The New York Times.

“If those reforms do move forward, then the opportunity for collective growth is high,” he said.

But, he added, that is a big “if.”

“We are at a time of real ambivalence in terms of our attitude towards China,” Jacques deLisle, director of the Centre for East Asian Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, told The South China Morning Post.

This shift can partly be explained by the recent stock market crisis, said Mr. deLisle. “There is concern that the only thing worse than China doing too well is China not doing well enough.”

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