Former U.S. President Barack Obama was in Beijing on Wednesday for a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
According to China’s state-run Xinhua news service, Xi called for “enhanced communication, exchanges and cooperation between China and the United States,” and offered a “positive appraisal” of Obama’s efforts at improving relations with China during his presidency.
Xi “stressed that China and the United States have an important responsibility to safeguard world peace and stability, as well as boost global development and prosperity,” and declared China is “ready to work with the U.S. to strengthen communication, exchanges, and cooperation,” per Xinhua. He also gave Obama a briefing on the Communist Party Congress from October.
Amusingly, but not surprisingly, Xinhua has very little to say about what Obama said during the meeting, other than nothing he “thanked Xi for meeting with him and appreciated China’s development achievements.”
Western media outlets were obliged to follow Xinhua’s lead and portray Obama as the very junior partner in the meeting, doing a great deal of listening while Xi did all the talking. Bloomberg Politics, for example, reports only that “Obama told Xi that he was willing to play a continued role in strengthening mutual understanding, exchange and cooperation between the two nations,” and sources Xinhua for even that meager bit of bland boilerplate.
The South China Morning Post slips in a little dig at Obama foreign policy, saying, “Obama, who championed a ‘pivot to Asia’ policy that Beijing viewed as a bid to contain its ambitions and critics say was largely a failure, said China had made impressive achievements.”
“Relations between Obama and Xi were outwardly positive, but were underscored by tensions over Washington’s concerns about human rights in China and the South China Sea disputes,” the SCMP adds, without citing anything Obama said that would indicate such underscoring.
The UK Guardian describes Obama and Xi as “all smiles during the meeting” and notes Chinese media fawned over them as ‘veteran cadres,’ which is “a term typically applied to retired Communist officials.” That might not be the kind of coverage Obama’s press office was hoping for.
All of these reports prominently mention the Paris accords on climate change, which is presented as an achievement in China-U.S. cooperation undone by President Trump’s withdrawal from the pact. They also mention Obama’s supposedly turgid relationship with Xi during the former’s term in office, because the Obama administration was troubled by China’s human rights abuses and aggression in the South China Sea. Few American media outlets seem inclined to dwell on China’s massive hacking abuses during the Obama presidency, notably including the attack on the federal Office of Personnel Management.
Few news outlets seem curious about why Obama is touring Asia, with stops in Shanghai and India also on his agenda, or why he would fly all the way to Beijing to sip tea with Xi and exchange empty platitudes about global cooperation.
“The exact purpose of his visit remains unknown,” Russia’s Sputnik News remarks, finding it “intriguing” that Obama would travel to China less than a month after his successor, President Donald Trump, paid a visit.
“Barack is back,” gushes Newsweek, declaring Obama’s trip “marks a clear return to global issues for the former leader.” Newsweek seems to think it significant that Obama will be in India just a few days after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Ivanka Trump at the 8th Annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit and they said nice things about each other on Twitter.