Xi's US Visit 2015

Behind fairytale press, Chinese President Xi Jinping faces Goldilocks problem in America

In US eyes, China is either doing too well or not well enough

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 September, 2015, 11:39pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 September, 2015, 12:46pm

When President Xi Jinping visits the United States this week, the mainland public is bound to receive wall-to-wall positive coverage of what Beijing has pledged will be a successful trip. But underneath the pomp and pageantry, Xi may find himself facing an American audience that is increasingly ambivalent towards China.

Underlying a host of security and economic issues is a shifting balance between the two countries as China's clout continues to grow, and what some observers describe as a "Goldilocks problem" as illustrated by the recent Chinese stock market crisis.

"We are at a time of real ambivalence in terms of our attitude towards China," said Jacques deLisle, director of the Centre for East Asian Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

For nearly 30 years, a sense of opportunity for business and trade, and the idea that the US could affect what kind of power China would be, helped create a "fairly warm and positive view" towards China, deLisle said.

"But now you have fear, anger and worry," he said.

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For years, China's economic boom has been blamed for causing job losses and declining exports in the US. American politicians criticise Beijing for deliberately keeping the yuan at an artificially low level.

But when mainland stock markets tanked and signs pointed to a slowdown in economic growth over recent months, new concerns emerged.

"There is concern that the only thing worse than China doing too well is China not doing well enough," deLisle said.

"It's a Goldilocks problem. If China is doing well, it's a threat. If China is not doing well, it's a threat."

A bigger question for those in the policy circle, deLisle said, was whether China was still a status quo power or a revisionist power.

"For the first time in 30 years, there is serious discussion among policy elites in Washington that it may be time for a rethink in US-China relations."

Although not a majority view, deLisle said such discussion was disconcerting.

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"You didn't even hear that after Tiananmen," he said, referring to the deadly crackdown on student-led democracy protests in 1989 that temporarily cut off Western engagement with Beijing.

To further complicate the visit, China has become a subject of criticism for many candidates in the US presidential primary elections.

Some of the accusations were "white noise" and would go away after the election, William Overholt, a senior fellow with Harvard University's Asia Centre, said.

"Governor [Scott] Walker says [Barack Obama] should cancel the summit, even though he is actively seeking Chinese investment. [Donald] Trump says he would bring back two million jobs stolen by China, [even though] most of the jobs were not lost to China," Overholt said.

"That's all nonsense and that will go away."

It's a Goldilocks problem. If China is doing well, it's a threat. If China is not doing well, it's a threat
Jacques deLisle, director of the Centre for East Asian Studies

A more fundamental problem, he said, was the deterioration in relations over maritime security and business issues.

As foreign businesses on the mainland increasingly felt "under siege" by Beijing's policies, Overholt said the business community no longer played the bridging role it once did.

Xi is to speak to business heads in Seattle tomorrow, and take part in a roundtable with executives on Wednesday.

Beijing's anti-monopoly law, its support for state-owned enterprises and cybersecurity are among the topics likely to feature on the agenda.

Overholt, a former governor with the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, added: "But the question really is: what response will they get?"