Gao Wenqian, senior policy advisor at the NGO Human Rights in China, comments on Xi Jinping’s US trip:
Sino-American relations are at an historic crossroads. The day that Xi Jinping is scheduled to visit the White House happens to be Valentine’s Day. But in truth, the honeymoon of the two countries has long been over. They are now faced with political, economic, and diplomatic friction and conflict, and the smell of gunpowder is getting thicker and thicker. For China, relations with the United States are of primary importance. Any mishandling would not only have diplomatic repercussions, but also bring disaster to Chinese society in all aspects, further worsening China’s already difficult situation at home and abroad. China’s leaders see this very clearly, and don’t dare take things lightly.
The chief objective of Xi’s trip is to stabilize the existing structure of Sino-American relations. To accomplish this, he has prepared a big “red envelope”—of trade deals—to seal America’s lips, the same way that the Chinese authorities spend money to buy stability at home. But preserving the status quo is just wishful thinking on China’s part. China has for a long time manipulated the yuan exchange rate, sacrificed human rights and the environment, and engaged in unfair trade competition. These practices have seriously damaged American interests: in the U.S., they have caused an insurmountably high trade deficit, a huge loss of jobs, and a drag on economic recovery, resulting in serious problems in American society. That the U.S. finds this intolerable is evident in President Obama’s blunt remark at a November 2011 press conference: “Enough’s enough.” Republican presidential candidates are even trying to outdo one another in criticizing China. Some media outlets friendly to China attempted to soften the blow and said that all this is just “campaign talk.” But in fact, the need to do something about China’s unfair practices has become a bipartisan consensus. Whichever party wins the upcoming election will have to take steps to solve the problem; otherwise, it won’t be able to answer to the American people.
In fact, what needs to be done to straighten out Sino-American relations is very clear: the key is for China to abandon its abnormal development model, respect universal values, and improve its human rights situation. Doing so would produce a win-win situation. Those in power in China also understand this, but have failed to act time and again. This is because the “three lows”—low human rights, low social welfare, and low environmental protection—are the cornerstone of China’s high-speed development. Any move to improve human rights or boost domestic consumer demands is bound to not only affect the economic growth rate but also upset the current pattern of profit distribution, harming the interests of the powerful corporations and of the monopolistic state-owned enterprises. This is something that the authorities absolutely will not undertake.