Hu visit : Singh visit :: night : day

Last July I attended the White House welcome ceremony for Singh. The Indian journalists — who tend to be skeptical of all things Bush — were in awe. The arrangements were elaborate. The ceremony was flawless. Indian flags were everywhere. The warm dynamic between Bush and Singh was palpable. Dubya’s light blue tie even matched ...

608790_Bush_Singh2.thumbnail5.jpg
608790_Bush_Singh2.thumbnail5.jpg

Last July I attended the White House welcome ceremony for Singh. The Indian journalists -- who tend to be skeptical of all things Bush -- were in awe. The arrangements were elaborate. The ceremony was flawless. Indian flags were everywhere. The warm dynamic between Bush and Singh was palpable. Dubya's light blue tie even matched Singh's turban. Each remarked on how big a no-brainer a U.S.-India alliance is, as the common democratic values that seemed irrelevant during the Cold War were today more important than ever. 

Then they held a state dinner -- one of only 5 under this president. They hammered out the contours of a deal on civilian nuclear technology that was a big shock to Washington's policy elite -- the conventional wisdom had a deal materializing later in the year, away from the glare of television cameras. The visit was a huge breakthrough in U.S.-India relations, and will be remembered in New Delhi for a long time, if not in Washington. 



Last July I attended the White House welcome ceremony for Singh. The Indian journalists — who tend to be skeptical of all things Bush — were in awe. The arrangements were elaborate. The ceremony was flawless. Indian flags were everywhere. The warm dynamic between Bush and Singh was palpable. Dubya’s light blue tie even matched Singh’s turban. Each remarked on how big a no-brainer a U.S.-India alliance is, as the common democratic values that seemed irrelevant during the Cold War were today more important than ever. 

Then they held a state dinner — one of only 5 under this president. They hammered out the contours of a deal on civilian nuclear technology that was a big shock to Washington’s policy elite — the conventional wisdom had a deal materializing later in the year, away from the glare of television cameras. The visit was a huge breakthrough in U.S.-India relations, and will be remembered in New Delhi for a long time, if not in Washington. 

Cut to April 2006.

Hu Jintao is about to visit. It’s China, so everyone knows the drill: tiptoe around human rights, figure out something nice to say about trade and freedom, do the statesmen stuff, and let’s be on our way. Oh, and make sure the ceremonial stuff is taken care of, because the Chinese put a premium on pomp, ceremony, and pride. They eat it up. Hu wants to show his people that he’s being greeted as an equal in Washington. They turned down the White House’s offer of 2 days with the president in Crawford because they wanted all the protocol and ceremony that comes with a Washington visit. 

And then, the protocol backfired in a big way. A protester yelled at Hu. We announced China as Taiwan. Bush tugged at Hu’s sleeve because Hu was leaving the podium too early. There was no state dinner, just a big lunch. There was no breakthrough on anything, just bland restatements of each country’s position. This was a visit memorable for entirely different reasons. 

I roll my eyes at every magazine feature I read on India vs. China. To the extent that there’s a contest, China is winning bigtime. But I can’t help but notice the sharp contrast between last year’s visit by Indian PM Manmohan Singh and last week’s visit by Hu Jintao.

So what’s the point? Well, if you wanted to read a lot into the contrasting visits, it can be a metaphor for what the future holds for U.S. policy in Asia. We may have reached the point where we are very close to India because we want to be and we are deeply engaged with China because we have to be. That probably needs more explanation, but someone smarter out there is probably writing a good piece on this. I’ll just link to it when it comes out.  

At Sepia Mutiny a great South Asia blog, Manish Vij offers a humorous take on the contrast. Here’s a taste:

China India
Got a state lunch Got a state dinner. Stayed for chai.
Says Iran isn’t a threat Joined U.S. in censuring Iran
Sold Iran nuke tech Will buy nuke tech from the U.S.
Bill Gates bought leader dinner Bill Gates gave country two billion dollars
Criticized by Dubya for human rights Praised by Dubya for democracy
Leads the world in executing the poor Leads the world in poor execution

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