Obama's Trip Draws Mixed Reaction In China

President Obama's talks in China were cordial, but it was not a breakthrough visit. The modest results have raised questions about how well the two countries can cooperate on important issues. In China, everyone's expectations of Obama's first trip there were different. Some expected him to try to connect more with ordinary Chinese.

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President Obama took a stroll on the Great Wall today, as he finished up his visit to China. The image is impressive. The substance of this visit a little bit less so. The trip's modest results have raised questions about how well the two countries will cooperate on important issues. And we have more this morning from NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Beijing.

ANTHONY KUHN: Everyone's expectations of President Obama's first trip to China were different. The China arm of the environmental group Green Peace, for example, made some Internet videos to draw attention to President Obama's role in fighting global warming.

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

KUHN: Mr. Obama, say a crowd of breathless Chinese reporters, how are you going to deal with climate change?

Unidentified man: Uh, I don't know.

KUHN: Says the Obama impersonator. I'm just here to get some soy sauce.

Some observers are wondering exactly what the president had in mind on this trip. Sun Zhe, the director of the Center for U.S.-China Relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing, expected the president to try to connect with more ordinary Chinese. He had hoped President Obama would've been more like candidate Obama.

Professor SUN ZHE(Director, Center for U.S.-China Relations): Not his style. He's supposed to be charming, you know, more active. You know, he should appear in the very early morning in Beijing jogging or playing basketball. You know, let Chinese people see he's from Chicago, you know. Now, he's like he's from White House.

KUHN: China's state-owned media gave President Obama's Monday town hall with college students very limited coverage outside Shanghai. In the meeting, President Obama described human rights not as an American invention but as universal values. That may have been an unfortunate choice of words as China's government has labeled this concept a U.S.-led plot to Westernize and subvert China.

From the U.S. perspective the trip was supposed to be an effort to get China onboard on a wide range of global issues. But Wenran Jiang, a political scientist at the University of Alberta in Canada, says they appear to the Chinese as the global issues that the U.S. cares most about.

Professor WENRAN JIANG (Political science, University of Alberta): Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan - the laundry list that is where the American's are stuck. They wanted Chinese to help them. So their issue is none of these issues are really our core national interests.

KUHN: Jiang notes that most of the concrete agreements reached by the two sides were bureaucratic interagency cooperation. The two leaders mapped out no long term strategic visions. And on contentious bilateral issues, Presidents Obama and Hu Jintao largely stuck to their talking points.

Russell Moses, dean of the Beijing Center for Chinese Studies, says that a rethink of U.S.-China relations is needed.

Dean RUSSELL MOSES (Beijing Center for Chinese Studies): This is essentially what engagement thus far has brought us, still stalemated on issues of the day - on Tibet, Taiwan, human rights and trade. The notion that if you engage China you are going to get it to become a responsible stakeholder is something that has to be rethought in the light of Obama's trip here.

KUHN: Wenran Jiang says one reason U.S. cooperation with China is weak, is that the U.S. still treats its military alliances with Japan and South Korea as the foundation of its Asia policy. China has eclipsed its neighbors in strategic importance, he says, but the U.S. continues to hedge against China.

Mr. JIANG: The mindset is very Cold War oriented in the U.S. administration and policy planning on Asia. Somehow U.S.-Japan has to be the core of U.S.-Asia policy. We all know it's not, but we have to say so. This is a problem.

KUHN: Both Jiang and Moses say that China is feeling increasingly confident about its strategic position. And if cooperation with the U.S. is going slowly China would rather cooperate on its own terms than hurry the process.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

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