Obama in China: No 'Loud Chest-Beating' Like Bush

Diplomatic reporter Helene Cooper applied some spin to Barack Obama's hamstrung visit to Beijing.

Wednesday's front page story by Helene Cooper dealt with President Obama's less-than-groundbreaking trip to Beijing: "China Holds Firm On Major Issues In Obama's Visit - No Public Concessions - White House Says Trip Was Start of Needed Give-and-Take."

Judging from Cooper's story (Sharon LaFraniere, Edward Wong, Michael Wines and Mark Landler also contributed reporting) Obama evidently didn't get much in China with his diplomatic "nuance and deference," as another Times headline put it.

In six hours of meetings, at two dinners and during a stilted 30-minute news conference in which President Hu Jintao did not allow questions, President Obama was confronted, on his first visit, with a fast-rising China more willing to say no to the United States.

On topics like Iran (Mr. Hu did not publicly discuss the possibility of sanctions), China's currency (he made no nod toward changing its value) and human rights (a joint statement bluntly acknowledged that the two countries "have differences"), China held firm against most American demands.

With China's micro-management of Mr. Obama's appearances in the country, the trip did more to showcase China's ability to push back against outside pressure than it did to advance the main issues on Mr. Obama's agenda, analysts said.


White House officials maintained they got what they came for - the beginning of a needed give-and-take with a surging economic giant. With a civilization as ancient as China's, they argued, it would be counterproductive - and reminiscent of President George W. Bush's style - for Mr. Obama to confront Beijing with loud chest-beating that might alienate the Chinese. Mr. Obama, the officials insisted, had made his points during private meetings and one-on-one sessions.

This is the part where Cooper got the "chest-beating" characterization. From Obama's spokesman to your ear!

There are many reasons the White House may have heeded China's clear desire for a visit free of the polemics that often accompany meetings between leaders of the two countries. Mr. Obama's foreign policy is rooted in recasting the United States as a thoughtful listener to friends and rivals alike. "No we haven't made China a democracy in three days - maybe if we pounded our chest a lot that would work," Mr. Gibbs said in an e-mail message on Tuesday night. "But it hasn't in the last 16 years."

Here is what Gibbs evidently considers "chest-beating" by Bush. In a separate story, the Times described Bush's 2002 visit to Beijing:

In 2002, President George W. Bush stressed liberty, the rule of law and faith in a speech to university students broadcast across China.

The headline to that story put more good spin on Obama's China visit: "As Weight of a Relationship Tilts East, Obama Opts for Nuance and Deference." Only the online headline whispered of criticism, hinting Obama had been overly deferential: "During Visit, Obama Skirts Chinese Political Sensitivities."