What to Expect From Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping's U.S. Visit

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping’s U.S. visit will allow for the U.S. and China to better relations by allowing U.S. leaders and public to better understand Xi as an individual — a man who is expected to assume the top leadership position in China in 2013 — and for discussing major issues affecting the U.S.-Chinese. This visit also comes in close proximity to the 40th anniversary of the Shanghai Communique — which marked the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China under President Nixon in 1972 — and a time when China feels a “trust deficit” with the U.S.

By analyzing the discussions of the upcoming visit among analysts and the trending issues in U.S.-China relations over the past few years, there are five major issues that will likely be raised as points of discussion between Xi and U.S. leaders.

First, bilateral economic relations will be at the fore in discussions. It has become one of the overriding areas of contention as both China and the U.S. remain at odds over the value of the Chinese Yuan and Chinese subsidies to Chinese companies. The Chinese have stated that they will not change their monetary policy ahead of the visit; hence, the talks will be a reiteration of known positions including U.S. objections to the “undervaluation” of the Yuan and China’s protest of interference with its economic development.

Second, the U.S. and China will likely touch upon the political shakeups in North Korea and the Middle East as well as the problematic issue of Iran’s ongoing standoff with the West. The changes in the strategic and political landscapes in both North Korea and the Middle East will require the two states to seek cooperation to manage both issues. The same will apply on the issue of Iran, where China has significant clout as a major purchaser of Iran’s energy exports. The issue of Syria will also be parsed over China’s objection to taking tougher action against the Assad regime — which was on display in a recent UN vote which displayed in full the Chinese principle of non-intervention or “regime change.”

Third, the recent U.S. strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific region will also be raised to improve mutual understanding of the two nation’s respective strategic interests in the region. Chinese leaders have shown considerable concern and confusion over the U.S. strategic pivot. Critics of the Obama administration — in the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute — have believed that U.S. China policy has not been sufficiently coherent or clear on what America wants in Asia in relation to China’s ambitions.

Fourth, military relations will also be discussed to alleviate tensions over U.S. sales of military equipment to Taiwan, as well as China’s growing military modernization program and its assertiveness in regional security issues.

Last, the issue of cyber espionage will be raised as an issue of concern given the growing importance of this security issue and political ire caused by China’s alleged illicit pursuit of economic and technological secrets through cyber espionage. U.S. politicians have stated that they find China’s behavior in cyberspace “intolerable”.

There will also be two underlying issues that will remain below the surface during the visit. First, there’s the mysterious visit by Wang Lijun — the vice mayor and police chief of Chongqing and the right hand of Bo Xilai, a formidable candidate for the Chinese Politburo — to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, which many analysts suspect was an attempt by the man to defect to the U.S. Second, we have the social unrest in China, as symbolized by the Wukan Incident, which is a growing and troubling problem internally. Both issues represent sensitive issues for China as they are both matters of internal politics that undermine the stability of China. Wang’s visit is a matter of factional politics within the Chinese Communist Party and is considered to be a touchy and embarrassing issue for China. The Wukan Incident and the social unrest in China is part of a broader trend of an ongoing problem for Beijing that is as sensitive as Wang’s visit to the U.S. consulate. Neither should impact the visit as the U.S. and China have shown no interest in making them issues of discussion.

The overall effect of this visit will not fundamentally alter U.S.-China relations for the better or the worse as the purpose will be focused on shoring up relations between the two states through a more personal understanding between the leaders and a mostly cursory exchange of position and interests over the five issues listed between the two respective sides, assuming nothing out of the ordinary happens during the visit.

The point of the visit is to forge mutual understanding. It is in Xi’s interest to show that he can be the stoic and strong leader capable of juggling the U.S.-China relationship to legitimize his succession and to clarify America’s China policy.

Conversely, Obama and U.S. leaders need to do the same for their constituencies by allaying America’s concerns about its economic recovery and politico-military security within the context of the perceived problems caused by China’s economic policy of unfairly improving its competitiveness and flexing its military muscle

Xi’s U.S. Visit should be a fairly uneventful and controlled meeting between the two countries’ leadership that aims to improve mutual understanding on major issues underpinning their relationship and to satisfy the respective interests of these leaders.

Photo Credit: An Honorable German