Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping is having a somewhat contentious visit to the U.S. this week and it doesn't sound like it's going to get much better.
Bloomberg reports that Xi is expected to receive a "chilly reception" when he meets with congressional leaders today who are looking to land jabs over China's trade and currency policies. “The rhetoric out of the Congress on China is much more muscular and confrontational because they know they’re not running China policy, the White House is running China policy,” said Robert Kapp, the former president of the U.S.-China Business Council. Because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Minority leader Mitch McConnel and House Speaker John Boener are expected to ding Xi on a range of issues, Kapp tells Bloomberg “It’s a bad cop, good cop situation.”
The only problem with that analogy is it presumes Xi's reception with the White House was cordial. According to report from Xi's meeting with President Obama and Vice President Biden, that was far from the case. Sky News' China correspondent Holly Williams reported that President Obama "was quite frank, quite hard with Xi Jinping. He pushed him on Iran and Syria, he pushed him on human rights and criticised China on economic issues."
According to The New York Times, Biden was even more confrontational. During his toast to Xi, usually an opportunity for friendliness, "Mr. Biden presented a long list of grievances — ranging from theft of intellectual property and human rights abuses to China’s refusal to back United Nations sanctions against Syria ... striking a sober and businesslike mood," write Mark Landler and Edward Wong. Because Xi's toast stuck to the "standard diplomatic script," the Times says Biden's remarks came off like an "American lecture," which wasn't helped by the extended translation that " stretched out his points in the pin-drop silence."
Meanwhile, on the GOP campaign trail, Mitt Romney is taking the opportunity to lash out at China, with Aaron Friedberg, his foreign policy adviser, accentuating the need to "get tough." “[We need to] take a stronger stand than we’ve been doing and be prepared for the fact that the Chinese aren’t going to like it and are going to complain about it," he told The Telegraph today. "Up to now it has been almost exclusively talk – and talk is cheap."
To some, bashing China's trade policy may be exactly what a U.S. politician looking out for U.S. interests ought to be doing. As Bloomberg notes, "the U.S.-China trade deficit was $295 billion last year, $23 billion wider than a year earlier, and the imbalance is a main source of friction between the two countries." However, others, such as The Daily Beast's Zachary Karabell, emphasize that China isn't the bad guy. "The American tendency to blame China for assorted domestic economic ills is one of the more troubling features of contemporary politics and society," he writes. "Manufacturing jobs started disappearing from the American heartland long before the rise of China—to Japan and Taiwan in the 1960s and 1970s, and then to Mexico in the 1980s."
For Xi's sake, one can only hope he gets a taste of that "Iowa nice" when he makes his evening visit to Muscatine to visit the Victorian farmhouse he lived in more than 25 years ago. Can a small town in Iowa salvage Xi's stay here?