Nothing says human rights, security in Asia, and the quashing of cyberwarfare like the forbidden love between two gay cowboys, huh? The cover of the new issue of The Economist (the regional edition running in North America, anyway) is stirring a minor controversy and cries of "awful" Newsweek-style trolling ahead of an historic and not-quite-overshadowed summit that begins today between President Obama and Xi Jinping at the posh Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, California — their first meeting since Xi became the president of China in March. The two most powerful countries in the world are locked in a rigid stalemate when it comes to hacking attacks, North Korea, trade, and much more, and while the spectre of the last two days of NSA leaks won't help Obama's leverage on the cyberwar front, the two-day meet-and-greet is all abotu setting the tone, and, hey, maybe they can at least share a laugh about this: The Economist's (funny?) cover subs in Xi and Obama as Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, respectively, in Brokeback Mountain — a movie not exactly about cowboys so much as two male shepherds finding a love that just won't quit.
You see the Photoshop job is supposed to be terrible — that's what The Economist does! And the whole forbidden-love/we-can-work-it-out message is actually pretty spot-on, especially in light of how big a deal everyone makes out of the importance of Obama and Xi's relationship. That doesn't mean Chinese or China-based bloggers are taking this so well. Shanghaiist's James Griffiths, called out the homophobia and compared the shock value to that other newsweekly:
Obviously it's awful, but it's so awful - with its shoddy photoshopping and clunky, unfunny 'joke' movie reviews, not to mention the entire concept itself of depicting two world leaders as characters from a poignant film about forbidden love because 'LOL GAYS' - that it's almost brilliant, reminiscent of Tina Brown's Newsweek at its most trolling.
Beijing Cream's Anthony Tao was just driven to sighs by the (intentionally, we're guessing) terrible tag lines:
Let me isolate the cover-line jokes for you, see if you find them funny:
He Stole His Heart
(And Then His Intellectual Property)
‘Team America’ Meets ‘Kung Fu Panda’
That’s… so bad. Team America is the name of a satirical movie that pillories the American government. Kung Fu Panda is a Hollywood film that incited Chinese protests. Neither represent the respective countries that… you know what… sigh. That’s all. Just sigh.
The Atlantic's David Graham wasn't a fan either — it made him miss Newsweek. But even Tao admits that the the accompanying cover story is pretty good. And it doesn't seem like everyone is upset. Cam MacMurchy, who edits The Nanafang, a community website based in the Pearl River Delta, gave The Economist cover a not-terrible review:
China bloggers a bit dour on the Economist cover... lighten up folks. Not the funniest cover ever, but in-line with what the magazine does.— Cam MacMurchy (@zhongnanhai) June 7, 2013
Either way, we're talking about Obama and Xi here — and possibly the fate of international diplomacy. "It is easy to mock the idea of meetings for the sake of meetings," reads The Economist cover story story, perhaps giving us a tongue-in-cheek explanation for their mocking cover art and just how important this meeting is for setting that tone going forward. The two-day summit and meals in between are expected to set the stage for a conversation about China's hacking of U.S. international propert — both the government and major corporations, both of which are also now tied up in the NSA spying leaks back on American soil. Late last month, it was reported that Chinese hackers hacked sophisticated U.S. weapons designs. That report followed stories of China hacking of U.S. infrastructure, and the Pentagon pinning hacking on the Chinese government. Last night came word that Chinese hackers had made their way into Obama's campaign operation. And obviously, telling a leader of a rival country that his country is doing some nefarious things was going to be awkward anyway.
This meeting is being touted as an informal getting-to-know-you, and neither leader will be accompanied by as large an entourage as usual as they head off into the wilds of the legendary estate. For better or worse, both Obama and Xi are expected to be more candid — and that could possibly could lead to more progress. This weekend's meeting, which begins at 2 p.m. Pacific time, "can create webs of mutual trust and even friendship that leaders can draw on in a crisis—and conversations over late-night drinks can do more to draw countries together than all the diplomats in the world," The Economist writes, explaining that this glitzy, historic, expensive to-do — just like the magazine's own cover — isn't only for show.