Chinese President Xi Jinping and his immensely popular wife, Peng Liyuan, a famous but now inactive Chinese folksinger, landed in Seattle earlier this week on the first stop of his inaugural state visit to the US since taking office in 2012. They were greeted by Washington Governor Jay Inslee as designated representative of U.S. President Barack Obama.
Observations to date.
Seattle is the only stop on President Xi’s visit before moving on to Washington and the commemoration of the U.N.’s 70 anniversary in New York. (The People’s Republic of China was only given the U.N. General Assembly seat previously held by Taiwan in 1971, the year of President Nixon’s historic trip to the Mainland.) And then it’s back to China, causing many to ask, why Seattle? Of the US cities visited by Chinese tourists last year Seattle didn’t even make the top ten. (Los Angeles was number one, followed by New York and Hawaii. Yellowstone National Park, interestingly, came in at number eight, just above Orlando.)
The Emerald City, as Seattle is nicknamed, is, however, a popular place for Chinese political leaders to visit. Deng Xiaoping, the architect of the great opening up, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, Xi’s two immediate predecessors, also made official visits there.
And it is home to Microsoft and Bill Gates, allowing President Xi to co-host a business forum that included the leaders of the largest tech companies in both the US and China.
It is becoming clearer with each passing day, perhaps due to the accelerated slowdown of China’s manufacturing sector, just how important entrepreneurial technology development is to Xi’s future plans for China’s pivot away from traditional manufacturing. It’s in the papers every day and the government is putting significant financial resources and encouragement behind the effort.
And with significant success. Even looking beyond the official numbers tech startups are booming here. There are now a reported 600 tech incubators in Beijing alone funding and guiding an army of young entrepreneurs embracing tech startups with a success some, including myself, didn’t believe was possible this quickly given the rote nature of the Chinese education system. What these entrepreneurs lack in training and experience, however, they apparently more than make up for in passion and hard work.
The most politically important part of the trip is yet to come, of course, but I must admit that my most striking impression of Xi’s trip to date is how little attention it appears to be getting in the US. These two countries did 550 billion dollars in bilateral trade last year and they will soon be each other’s biggest trading partners.
On my Thursday morning, however, the headlines on one popular US home page ran leading news stories on the death of Yogi Berra (certainly deserved), the arrival of Pope Francis (also deserved), Donald Trump threatening to sue Fox News, the usual array of entertainment and sports news, date-breakers commonly committed by men, a review of what you need to know about your gall-bladder, and a ranking of Halloween candy treats from best to worst.
On the same day, by contrast, China Daily, ran lead articles on President Xi’s discussion of the need for more understanding between the US and China, how Chinese students and tourists contribute to the US economy, the announcement that China is buying 300 planes from Boeing, President Xi’s call for closer cooperation between China and Washington State, and the important roles that Chinese Americans are playing at Microsoft.
In fact, in a poll released by China Daily just the day before, only 54% of Americans even knew that President Xi was visiting the United States while 72% of the Chinese were aware of the visit. And, interestingly, the highest awareness among Americans was among young adults, 80% of who were aware of the trip.
The fact that Pope Francis is making his first visit to the US at exactly the same time is interesting, and intuitively surprising, but I have no idea what it means and make no accusations that there was anything sinister involved in the arrangement. Given that there are 80 million Roman Catholics in the US, however, it should be assumed that he will dominate the US media cycle and his message of not overlooking the poor and exploited is certainly an important one.
The other two news items that caught my eye this week were the weak manufacturing data in China, which was not unexpected, and the fact that China successfully launched its first Long March – 6 rocket, carrying 20 satellites into orbit simultaneously.
It will be an interesting few days.
And if you are the least bit superstitious, the Mid-Autumn Festival, the second most important family holiday in China, is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese calendar when the moon is at its fullest of the year. This year it falls on September 27 and for the first time in 30 years will be accompanied by a full lunar eclipse.
Copyright © 2015 Gary Moreau
Note: The views expressed in this post are strictly those of the writer acting in a personal capacity.
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