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In Meeting With Hu, Obama Urges China to Resume Dialogue With Tibet

November 18, 2009

Wall Street Journal
November 18, 2009

BEIJING -- As he dives into the heart of his trip
to China, President Barack Obama is finding it
hard to bring his trademark charisma to bear.

Mr. Obama met with Chinese President Hu Jintao on
Tuesday for their second private talks in two
days. A senior White House official said Mr.
Obama broached human rights, encouraging the
Chinese government to resume dialogue with the
Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader whom
Beijing considers a separatist. Mr. Obama also
pushed China to bolster domestic consumption in
its economy and become less reliant on exports to the U.S.

In prepared statements afterward, the leaders
stressed cooperation on issues including climate
change and energy, with Mr. Hu saying they agreed
to work toward a U.S.-China partnership to address common issues.

The statement, which was broadcast live on
Chinese television, is likely to be Mr. Obama's
last chance to address China's people directly. A
town-hall event Monday that was supposed to
highlight his common touch ended up being largely scripted.

At least one dissident was arrested, and police
briefly detained a CNN reporter after a tussle
over footage of a T-shirt depicting Mr. Obama as
Mao Zedong. The arrests underscored Chinese
authorities' resolve to control information, even
as Mr. Obama calls for more openness.

The upshot is that the trip, which isn't expected
to yield major substantive agreements, isn't
likely to give Mr. Obama much of a symbolic
victory either. Observers say the visit, which
ends Wednesday, is one of the most tightly
controlled in recent memory, with Mr. Obama
afforded none of the opportunities to reach
Chinese people given to his two predecessors.

"The mystery is the lack of public contact," said
David Shambaugh, a professor of Chinese studies
at George Washington University, currently on a
fellowship in China. "He's a populist politician
but he's not getting any interaction with Chinese people."

According to U.S. and Chinese officials, the
itinerary has been sharply contested by both
sides. The U.S. wanted a chance for Mr. Obama's
telegenic personality to shine through and make a
case for greater freedoms, but Chinese officials
pushed back, according to a Chinese media
insider. The Chinese side was wary of making Mr.
Obama look more accessible than China's own
politicians, who appear on television only during
highly scripted moments, such as inspection tours.

A packed agenda in Asia kept Mr. Obama's visit to
China short, said David Axelrod, one of Mr.
Obama's senior advisers. Mr. Obama had to stop
first in Japan, join the Asia-Pacific Economic
Cooperation forum in Singapore, and stop by South
Korea for consultations on a pressing
foreign-policy issue: North Korea. "Clinton came
for more than a week, which gave him the latitude
to do a variety of things and to meet with more
people. We're here for 2½ days," Mr. Axelrod
said. On Wednesday, Mr. Obama is due to meet
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao before leaving in the afternoon.

During President Clinton's visit in 1998, he had
four opportunities to speak to the Chinese,
including an uncensored live interview on China
Central Television. In 2002, President George W.
Bush made a speech to Chinese university students
that was broadcast on national TV. The U.S. is
now in a weaker position, with its economy racked
by financial crisis and its military engaged in two wars.

The differences were apparent in the meeting in
Shanghai with Chinese youth. It was meant to be a
town-hall-style event. Mr. Obama addressed a
group of selected young people from the Shanghai
area, some of whom said they had been bused in for the event after "training."
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