China’s Hu Arrives to Look Around

Published on consortiumnews, by Danny Schechter, January 18, 2011.

(Editor’s Note: The arrival of Chinese President Hu in Washington had the feel of a banker showing up at a struggling business where the owners pray for more financial help but fear the banker might notice how desperate things look and pull the loan.
With China now one of America’s top creditors, Hu’s hosts hope he will decide to keep buying Treasury bills and to give a boost to the U.S. economy — rather than go away thinking the American economic/political model is in rapid decline, a concern that Danny Schechter addresses in this guest essay

On the eve of the Chinese President’s visit to the United States, and the intense speculation about his intentions — and ours — I found myself in a dark room at the Anthology Film Archive in the East Village watching a spectacular documentary by Chinese filmmaker Zhao Liang called “Petition.”

It’s about the tens of thousands of people with grievances who seek redress in China at offices ostensibly set up to resolve their problems.  The right to petition is guaranteed by the Chinese Constitution — yes, China has a Constitution, but it is unevenly enforced like our own. Falun Gong first tried, but failed, to bring its human rights claims to a Petition office like the bureaucratic centers shown in the film as do a small army of individuals who every day, bravely — sometimes fanatically — insist it is their human right to be heard. 

Listen to the description of “Petition”: “Since 1996, Zhao has documented the ‘petitioners’ who come from all over China to make complaints in Beijing about abuses committed by their local authorities. Gathered near the complaint offices, living in most cases in makeshift shelters, the complainants wait for months or years to obtain justice … //

… The future of our relations is not just dependent on what the leaders say or agree on at summits. China is wary of U.S. military power encircling them. They are being forced to spend more money than they want to on naval ships and stealth planes.

This is a country that grew up with Mao’s dictum that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

As the Telegraph noted recently, “on virtually all the main issues that separate the two nations, (China) seems intransigent and uncompromising. The sense of threat is heightened by the fact that, while America is gripped by economic, social and political self-doubt, the Chinese have never been more certain of their ascendancy.”

It may be that both countries are shakier than we think. There may be no economic recovery in the United States for five years while some Hedge Funds fear, “China is a bubble close to bursting.”

Reports another article in the Telegraph, “The world is looking to China as a springboard out of recession – but some hedge funds are betting the country’s credit and growth levels cannot be sustained.”

So far, neither Washington nor Beijing has realized the apocalyptic projections of their many critics. Both states still pay lip service to their ideal, but both can be unraveling.

A fancy State Dinner will not bridge the gaps that separate the two countries and “paths of development,” as the Chinese say.

The U.S. says it wants more democracy in China but officials like Tim Geithner are upset by the debates taking place there, and pine for the days when they could deal with a dictator like Mao or Deng who, as the New York Times explained, “commanded basically unquestioned authority.”

Our leaders prefer dealing with that type of authority – and wish they had it here.

Back in Beijing, in the shabby Petition Villages where Chinese citizens soldier on in their fight for justice, or in this country where our citizens are frustrated and angry with an economic crisis that appears to have no end, no one will expect much from this summit in faraway Washington where diplomatic dances produce kabuki plays filled with smiles but no real changes. (full text).

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