China's leaders struggle to understand new president As China waves goodbye to 'old friend' George W. Bush, Barack Obama is a somewhat enigmatic figure whom Chinese leaders are struggling to understand. For many Chinese people, Mr Obama represents the realisation of the 'American Dream' as the first black president of the world's most powerful country. But for Chinese leaders and officials, he is a blank sheet, devoid of references to his policies or approach to governance - making him unpredictable, according to Yu Wanli , an associate professor at Peking University's Centre for International and Strategic Studies. 'Unlike Mr Bush, Obama has a less obvious public profile. So our perception of him is mainly based on his speeches,' Professor Yu said. 'But he is a politician, and politicians don't always mean what they say. So we still don't have a good grasp of his style.' Riding on the Bush family's close relations with Beijing, Mr Bush, or 'Xiao Bu' as he is sometimes known, helped stabilise Sino-US ties during his eight years in office. Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte earlier this month, as they celebrated the 30th anniversary of Sino-US diplomatic relations, that bilateral ties had been 'smooth and fruitful' during the past eight years. What the Beijing leadership could expect from the new administration was a continuation of a largely stable relationship - at least in the short term, said Tao Wenzhao from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Given the range of international issues - the war between Israel and Hamas, chilly ties between India and Pakistan following the Mumbai attacks, Iran's nuclear ambitions and the unresolved North Korea issue - Professor Tao predicted that relations with China would decrease in importance for Mr Obama. 'It's a very different world now compared to when Mr Bush was sworn in. Mr Obama will have other, more pressing diplomatic issues to address than Sino-US relationships. 'But this is not a bad thing. It means Sino-US ties are smooth as presently there are not many thorny issues between the two countries.' Indeed, both Chinese leaders and Mr Obama's officials have hailed bilateral ties. Mr Obama's secretary of state-designate, Hillary Rodham Clinton, has said the two countries' relationship would be the world's most important bilateral relationship this century. Professor Yu said most of the State Department posts for East Asian affairs were tipped to be filled by China experts, a sign of the country's importance in US diplomatic strategy. 'This is different from Mr Bush's first cabinet, in which most of those positions were filled by Japan-savvy officials,' Professor Yu said. The US is also banking on China's co-operation to help resolve the global financial crisis. But as government statistics suggest, the crisis' impact on China could be worse than previously expected. Shi Yinhong , director of American studies at Renmin University, said tension would be inevitable if China did not fulfil America's expectations. China's human rights record and the Tibet issue could also remain targets of criticism under the new administration. But Professor Yu said that as long as a 'tacit understanding' was reached on both issues' core importance to China, they would not cause as much of a stir as French President Nicolas Sarkozy did last year by meeting exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama. 'Mr Bush also met the Dalai Lama and he has also criticised China's human rights situation. But Beijing just pretended they didn't notice, because there was tacit understanding between the two,' he said.