President Xi and the Pope both arrived in the US this week. Landing on opposite sides of the country, their arrivals couldn’t have been more different. The Pope, great by President Obama with a bow and hand-kiss at the airport, was welcomed with all the pomp and circumstance usually reserved for, well, Presidents and Kings. President Xi on the other hand, arrived in Seattle and was met with both supports and protestors, but no White House level dignitaries.
President Xi’s people released a tentative schedule of his actives, while the Pope’s “historic” visit has it’s own “Pope Tracker;” an app that follows his movements and allows you to upload your personal stories of meeting with the Pontiff.
So, if you’re the Pope or President Xi, you don’t come to the US at the same time on accident. So what’s the message? What’s the agenda of this timing? The two of them are “almost” going to meet in DC on Wednesday or Thursday—at least one of them obviously nixed the opportunity to do so. Hmmm….which one?
The Chinese press have made a living out of interpreting slights, perceived or real, in the visits and surrounding reception of Chinese dignitaries overseas. So you’d think that this week would an absolutely orgasmic occasion for them—a religious leader (one whom they do not allow to lead or select leaders for the Catholic church in China) is getting the full-blow red carpet treatment and Xi isn’t. This should offend the sensibilities of all Chinese on both sides of the straight, right?
But what if President Xi planned it like this? He meets with business leaders in Seattle first; placing economics over politics is a veiled shot at the US political agenda. (And here’s a great wrap up of how you force the hand of the US AND the int’l business community at that same time–attend or face sanctions in China.)And with all the press focusing on the Pope has relatively protest free (at least press-coverage of protests free) visit for the first week of his trip to the US. The Chinese press gets all the comparative fodder they need to trash the US for receiving feudal superstitious splittists with more respect than the leader of the 2nd largest econ in the world.
Why risk the image of the Pope getting top-shelf attention in the Chinese press by condescending to a meeting or even a handshake? No doubt completely unnecessary, from Xi’s perspective. China is not all the harmonious right now and one of the groups feeling the pressure to get inline are the Chinese catholics among other religious groups.
Xi’s goal with this visit is two fold. First, look strong—take a more leading role in world affairs (or at least appear to do so for the folks back home) and take a stand against the running capitalist dogs in the US. And second, try to convince the US and China’s Eastern Pacific neighbors that while it’s strong, it’s not that strong.
Cyber security and the South China Sea are the big issues, but neither are likely to be resolved, over even preliminarily agreed upon during this visit. China is playing the victim card in the cyber arena but considering that the US is considering sanctions against China for cyber espionage, offering to work together on cyber security is a gamble that likely won’t go over well with the US congress. And China’s hardline position on the SCS means that it’s a non-starter as well.
This trip has been planned for months, if not years. No accidents, no mistakes. The only frustrations for Xi’s people being the freedoms enjoyed by protesters living in the US—something that the the Pope’s visit and rock-start like press following will more than likely overshadow. Mission accomplished.