Hu’s rare trip to Washington is being viewed as something less than a success, which means for the Chinese a missed opportunity. A visit to the White House is a rare and precious thing. Hu was viewed as formal and scripted, and there was therefore no sense of a shift in the underlying nature of US-China relations, which is unfortunately and unnecessarily frosty and and slightly strained.
Hu is great in so many ways. His inscrutibility is a huge benefit in the Chinese political context. He is, I believe, a reformer and is pushing the agenda forward by keeping his mouth shut. Jiang Zemin style ad-libbing would only give the opposition opportunities to undercut him. But the stiff silent visage that works so well in the Chinese context doesn’t work well at all in terms of the rest of the world.
It may be that Hu’s formality and scripted approach is a reflection of home issues rather than an indicator of the depth of US-China problems. But in the end, and maybe before too long, the Chinese leadership will have to find a way of linking more closely the domestic message and the international message. Not easy for them, but it is hard to see an alternative.
Welcome to the 21st century, guys.