BEIJING — Chinese media gloated Tuesday over President Xi Jinping’s “star” performance at an Asia-Pacific trade summit in Indonesia that his American counterpart was unable to attend.
After the U.S. government shutdown prompted President Obama to cancel plans to travel to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Bali, Xi saw an opportunity to press his country’s credentials as a business partner to its neighbors. Although Xi did not mention Obama’s no-show during his public appearances, Chinese newspapers were not so circumspect.
“Chinese President Xi Jinping has become the brightest political star on the Asian diplomatic platform. In contrast, America has lost an important chance to perform,” the Hong Kong-based Communist Party newspaper Ta Kung Pao said in an editorial. “The influence of the U.S. is questioned more and more.”
The government in Beijing has long been uneasy about Obama’s strategic goal of rebalancing U.S. foreign policy toward Asia, which many here saw as an attempt to contain China. Wen Wei Po, another Party newspaper paper based in Hong Kong, said the impasse in Washington proves that the United States no longer has the clout to back up its Asian strategy.
“Bipartisan games in the U.S. have let the world see the worst of U.S. democracy,” wrote senior commentator Huang Haizhen. “It is clear to other Asia-Pacific countries that America’s return [to Asia] strategy has become powerless.”
In an editorial, Wen Wei Po said the U.S. “pivot” to Asia had undermined peace and stability in the region by encouraging Asian countries to see China as a threat and as the instigator in regional territorial disputes.
Now, the editorial said, more and more countries are “no longer being used by the U.S. but are improving relations with China rationally.”
State-controlled media in Beijing also criticized U.S. attempts to negotiate a transpacific free trade deal without China’s participation. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, involves 12 countries: the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
Beijing had expressed interest in joining the Pacific trade talks during recent high-level meetings in Washington. Jin Canrong, a professor at the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China, said Washington “shunned” the offer, adding, “So, of course, China is not so happy about it.”
On Monday, Xi said that APEC should play “a leading and coordinating role” in regional free-trade integration and warned that any arrangements should be cooperative and not confrontational, leading to “an open mind-set, not a closed one.”
“The intention of the Obama Administration [regarding the TPP] and Beijing’s coping tactics have become one of the biggest uncertainties in the regional trade system in the future,” warned the nationalist newspaper the Global Times.
Asia-watchers in Washington had predicted that Obama’s absence would undermine the trade talks, even though Secretary of State John F. Kerry stood in for the president. Some observers also noted that negotiations could be affected if Obama is perceived as unable to push any agreement through an uncooperative Congress.
On Tuesday, the nations participating in the talks reaffirmed their goal of concluding the complex deal this year. But a senior Obama administration official acknowledged that goal was “ambitious” and said the hardest issues had been left for last. Those include the role of state-owned enterprises in a free-trade scheme, intellectual property rights and environmental concerns.
China shadows the negotiations and has offered preferential trade arrangements to participants, which many observers see as an obvious counter to the U.S. deal. But the senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door talks, played down concerns that multiple trade deals being negotiated simultaneously would undermine the TPP.
“We don’t see these as inconsistent, mutually exclusive, conflicting or even competitive,” the official said. “There may be other approaches out there, but our emphasis is on a high-standard, comprehensive agreement.”
Ta Kung Pao likened holding the talks without Obama present to having “an orchestra without a conductor.” China Daily, meanwhile, quoted researchers at two government think tanks as saying the TPP would benefit developed countries at the expense of developing countries, derail global economic integration and potentially give rise to a new round of protectionism.
“One of the US’ main purposes is to impose its value and market standards on other APEC economies for entry into the forum it has created to suit its own interests. This is preposterous,” wrote Wang Yusheng, China’s former senior representative to APEC, in an op-ed for the paper. “Of course, the US proposals can be discussed. But they should be discussed in accordance with the strategic goals of APEC as a whole.”
On Monday, China warned the United States to take steps to prevent a default before the Oct. 17 deadline to raise the debt ceiling. As the largest creditor of the United States, the Chinese government had made its concerns “totally clear” to Washington, Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said.
“We ask that the United States earnestly takes steps to resolve in a timely way before October 17 the political [issues] around the debt ceiling and prevent a U.S. debt default, to ensure the safety of Chinese investments in the United States and the global economic recovery,” Zhu said, according to the Reuters news agency.
Many of the heads of state and chief diplomats who met in Bali will travel from there to Brunei for the 2013 East Asia summit, which Obama was also scheduled to attend. Obama had planned to hold a bilateral meeting with Xi there Wednesday.
Instead, Kerry met with Xi on Monday and Tuesday for about 10 minutes and five minutes, respectively, a senior State Department official said.
Anne Gearan in Bali and Zhang Jie and Liu Liu in Beijing contributed to this report.