Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered his first speech on his trip to the United States in Seattle Tuesday. Xi asserted China’s alleged desire to prosper, but not conquer, crack down on cyberterrorism, and end the corruption plaguing the Communist Party for years.
On the latter point, he unleashed his biggest laugh of the night, assuring listeners that the war on corruption that has ensnared thousands of communist party officials “is not House of Cards,” alluding to the popular television series.
It was the more modern pop culture reference of the night, after claiming in his introductory remarks that “the film Sleepless in Seattle has made the city almost a household name in China.” Xi argued that mass arrests for corruption would continue happening: “As I once said, one has to be very strong if he wants to strike the iron. The blacksmith referred to here is the Chinese communist party. The fundamental aim of the party is to serve the people’s heart and soul.” He added, as if not to worry the audience too much, that “this has nothing to do with power struggle. In this case, there is no House of Cards.”
The speech covered a number of important topics–most prominently, corruption and cyberterrorism–and Xi was clear in striking a positive, friendly tone, even when current events made his claims barely plausible.
On the issue of cyber security, Xi insisted that China was a “victim of hacking,” not a perpetrator of the crime. “The Chinese government will not, in whatever form, engage in commercial thefts or encourage or support such attempts by anyone,” despite ample evidence that China not only engages in industrial-level hacking, but shares with Russia what it finds out about the United States.
On trade in its near oceans, Xi said China hoped “to facilitate the shaping of a free, open, convenient, and dynamic space for development in the Asia Pacific.” Despite months of belligerent activity in the South China Sea and statements from high-ranking Chinese generals that the sea is not in international waters, Xi said, “We want to work with other countries in the region and the rest of the international community to maintain peace and security in the Asia Pacific,” threatening nations like Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia.
Chinese state media is already heralding Xi’s visit to the United States as a success. In an article titled “Scholars Speak Highly of Xi’s Words, China-U.S. Partnership,” Xinhua quotes alleged scholars who praise Xi for helping “the world better understand China and that China-U.S. cooperation can make the world a better and peaceful place.” Xinhua’s summary of his Seattle speech highlights a student exchange program he announced between China and the United States, as well as something called the China-U.S. Year of Tourism.
With the exception of his claim that China seeks peace in the Asia-Pacific region, Xi’s speech gave no indication of the struggle currently ongoing in the South China Sea as the nation continues to build artificial islands and military facilities that threaten its neighbors. Xi made no mention of Sandy Phan-Gillis, an American citizen who had been detained without cause for six months before being formally arrested this weekend on accusations of espionage, for which no evidence has surfaced.
Xi is expected to visit Washington on Thursday and Friday and meet with President Barack Obama to discuss international issues such as cybercrime and climate change.