Changing China

Giant on the move

China kinder to Obama than Bush?

November 17, 2009

How does one measure how U.S. President Barack Obama was received by the Chinese government?

I like to read the tea leaves and decided one measure might be to compare the reception Obama got in comparison with that given his predecessors.

For me, an indication is the most senior Chinese official greeting an American president at the airport.

Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping was the first Chinese leader Obama met in Beijing when Air Force One touched down on Monday. Xi had rushed back on the same day to the Chinese capital from the northern province of Shaanxi, where he was on an inspection tour.

An Internet search showed that in 2002 and 2005, Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing was on hand when U.S. President George W. Bush arrived. Li’s replacement, Yang Jiechi, turned up when Bush landed in 2008.

Judging from the rank of the top official greeting the two U.S. presidents, China appears to like Obama more than Bush.

It is no coincidence that Xi was tapped to welcome Obama.

Shortly after Bush was elected to his first term, he had riled China when he pledged to help Taiwan defend itself and offered the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its own the biggest arms package in a decade. Bush is also unpopular in China for invading Iraq.

But even Obama’s red carpet greeting pales in comparison with the honour bestowed on U.S. civil  rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. after he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968. Then-Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong looked on from the Gate of Heavenly Peace over Tiananmen Square,  where hundreds of thousands of Chinese had converged, to condemn the assassination and to show his support for King’s civil rights struggle.

Photo Credit: U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (centre L) walk past an honour guard during Obama’s arrival in Beijing November 16, 2009. REUTERS/Jim Young


It’s a good start. Let’s hope the two most powerful countries can work constructively for the good of the world’s economy.


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