Friday, April 21, 2006; 1:42 PM
In the view of President Bush's hawkish advisers, China represents the United States's most important and dangerous geopolitical rival in the years to come.
In the view of democracy and human rights activists, China represents the most blatant challenge to Bush's ostensible passion for freedom across the globe.
But what seemed to matter the most to Bush as he hosted President Hu Jintao at the White House yesterday was that the 1.3 billion Chinese represent a lot of customers.
Once a businessman, always a businessman. And in fact, Bush's positions on many controversial issues -- immigration, Social Security, China, gas prices, Iraq reconstruction -- are often most predictably in line with big-business interests.
So reducing the massive trade imbalance between the two countries was a top priority yesterday.
Indeed, the most telling document to emerge from the summit may have been the guest list for lunch, which included chief executives from Cisco Systems, International Paper, Amway, Lucent Technologies, Caterpillar, Motorola, United Technologies, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Ford, Wal-Mart, Procter and Gamble, Daimler Chrysler, Dow Chemical, Home Depot, Goldman Sachs, PepsiCo, Citicorp, FedEx and General Motors.
But just as the White House's meticulous choreography was undermined by a slew of embarrassing protocol gaffes, Bush's wheedling on behalf of big business was also for naught.
Paul Richter writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Chinese President Hu Jintao on Thursday promised President Bush long-term economic reforms but offered no immediate concessions on the trade and security issues that threaten the two countries' relationship."
Peter Baker and Glenn Kessler write in The Washington Post: "President Bush pressed China's visiting President Hu Jintao yesterday to open up markets, expand freedom and do more to curb nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea but came away with no specific agreements in a summit emphasizing symbolism over breakthroughs."
Joseph Kahn writes for the New York Times: "The meeting, the first at the White House between the men since Mr. Hu became China's top leader in 2002, was plagued by gaffes that upended months of painstaking diplomacy over protocol and staging.
"Though administration officials said significant progress was made, especially on the economic front, the session also underscored the intractable nature of a long list of grievances between the world's richest country and its fastest rising rival."
David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "Just about every American president since Richard M. Nixon has confronted the fact that his influence over China is far more limited than he once hoped. President Bush is now facing that reality midway through his second term, at a moment when the Chinese clearly sense his weakness."