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To Chinese state media, Xi's US visit a success

Associated Press

U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping at the White House on Feb. 14, 2012.

BEIJING – Days into Vice President Xi Jinping’s visit to the United States, the Chinese press assessment was startlingly similar to American coverage: long on diplomatic niceties, short on any serious policy.

In other words, a great success for the apparent heir to the Chinese presidency.

On last night’s CCTV’s Evening News, which an estimated 135 million Chinese watch each night, Xi was showed being dutifully feted by Washington’s political elite with all the pomp expected for America’s most important trading partner. Full military honor guards, lunch with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and, of course, a sit-down with President Barack Obama were all highlights in the official coverage.

Similarly, Thursday’s People’s Daily and the English-language China Daily led with Xi’s meetings in Washington and his Valentine’s Day-appropriate message that the two countries don’t need to love each other, but nevertheless still need to learn to trust each other and work better together.

Writing about Xi’s comments at a welcome lunch hosted by Biden and Clinton, the People’s Daily earnestly noted the key to working out differences over issues like trade, foreign policy and human rights is that they be “handled based on principles of mutual respect, candid communication and mutual non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs.”

Associated Press

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping reviews troops outside the Pentagon during a full honors ceremony in his honor on Tuesday.

The Beijing News also noted that Xi had expressed to Biden that, “China hopes the U.S. will see China with an objective view and take real action to enhance mutual trust.”

Both comments are excellent examples of the rhetoric typical of Chinese state media coverage of these high-level visits. In some ways, they represent a status quo: an olive branch that is extended in advance of and during high-level visits to reflect the ruling Communist Party’s desire to focus on areas of agreement rather than disagreement.

That these talking points continue to show up daily in local coverage here of Xi’s visit suggest that he has managed to accomplish his primary goals: reaffirming the importance of the Sino-U.S. relationship to the Chinese without rocking the boat.

To be sure, there are issues of disagreement more plainly articulated in the press here but currently only on the periphery of the generally positive coverage of Xi’s visit.

For example, the reliably nationalist newspaper, Global Times, in one article emphasized the positive steps that have come from Xi’s trip. But in a separate story on the Syria question – an issue that China has taken a hard stance on – noted that, “the West’s interference has been an important external factor that affects the developing direction of Arab political crises.”

The article concluded by charging, “Foreign interference has played an important role for the Syrian situation evolving into a civil war.”

In yesterday’s People’s Daily, an article entitled “China-U.S. trade to be more balanced,” noted that “only cooperation, rather than pressuring each other can effectively solve the current problems we are facing.”

How Xi will reconcile those comments with his Thursday visit to California – a state that exports $14 billion dollar worth of products to China, but imports a whopping $120 billion – remains to be seen.

However, if you see in the Chinese press tomorrow that such issues will be handled with “mutual respect and mutual non-interference,” you’ll know that Vice-President Xi has passed the test to become President Xi.