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Radio Free Asia: Thoughts on President Xi Jinping's Trip to America

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Radio Free Asia
A commentary by Bao Tong

President Xi Jinping will soon visit the United States. This will be an important trip, and the talks he will hold with President Obama will be important to both countries, and are being widely watched by other countries, too. But they are of the greatest importance, of course, to China.

Lately, for a number of reasons, China's star has been waning on the world stage, and doubts and fears about China have been on the rise. This is a fact; there is no need to mince words.

Against this broader background, both sides will have the following aims from forthcoming talks.

I think we can say, at a glance, that China is clearly eager to ensure that the U.S. understands its domestic and foreign policies, and to win wider recognition from the international community.

Hundreds of churchgoers wearing tee shirts vowing to
"safeguard religious dignity" protest against the forced
removal of crosses from churches in Wenzhou, Aug. 10, 2015.
(Photo: courtesy of an RFA listener)
The U.S. needs to gain an accurate understanding of the inner intentions of China's leaders, and will be hoping that China will become a responsible major player in international commerce, and in global financial markets.

Some contact and communication is definitely better than no contact or communication. I hope they can find some common ground. I have faith in the political acumen of both leaders, and contact between them should only lead to deeper understanding, and certainly not to deeper misunderstanding.

But there are two very troublesome issues here, as President Xi is on the threshold of his trip to America.

The first is happening in Zhejiang province, a place that Xi has ruled over personally. According to incomplete information from a number of unconfirmed sources, 1,500 crosses were removed from churches in the province before the end of August, thanks to a government campaign that was waged for their "emergency demolition." This is very strange.

The second issue has taken place across the whole of China. Once more, a number of incomplete reports from unconfirmed sources indicate that at least 150 individuals, lawyers and journalists engaged in standing up for citizens' rights had been detained, sentenced, arrested, warned, or were 'disappeared' or incommunicado by the end of August.

Of course the Chinese leadership will want to slam shut the door on these issues, which are part of their internal politics, and they won't allow anyone else to make "irresponsible" comments.

U.N. Charter, Chinese Constitution trampled

The problem is that these actions are in contravention of the U.N. Charter, and have trampled China's own constitution and laws.

This sort of domestic political struggle gives us a sense of the future of the rule of law in China, as well as flagging up questions of honesty, credibility and responsibility with regard to Chinese characteristics.

That's why I believe that these two troublesome matters will prove to be a big obstacle to mutual understanding and trust between the U.S. and China.

It's quite likely that [Beijing] has refused to allow the U.S. president to make these key topics for discussion. However, it's hard to imagine the glib soundbite that will cause the U.S. Congress, public opinion and the broader population to ignore such worrying signals.

So, I hope that President Xi and the Chinese government, even if it's on the eve of his U.S. trip, will take responsibility and practical action to ensure smooth talks at the Xi-Obama summit, and make some sign that they have a positive attitude.

It's never too late to return to the fold. And who would want to take responsibility for such a missed opportunity?

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Bao Tong, former political aide to the late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing.

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