President Bush, Laura, Bush, Hu Jintao, Liu Yongqing
Gerald Herbert  /  AP file
President Bush and first lady Laura Bush greet Chinese President Hu Jintao and his wife, Liu Yongqing, during an arrival ceremony at the White House on April 20.
By Beijing Bureau Chief
NBC News
updated 5/4/2006 3:54:32 PM ET 2006-05-04T19:54:32

BEIJING — China's media outlets have toed a uniform line on President Hu Jintao's visit to the U.S., hailing it as "fruitful" and a "milestone" despite a diplomatic embarrassment televised live across the world and little substantive movement in terms of resolving a host of differences between the two countries.

State-controlled TV, radio and newspapers as well as censorship of outside news sources helped protect the image of Hu as he used the highly orchestrated summit with President Bush to demonstrate that he is a major leader on the world stage, the main goal of the trip for his Chinese audience, according to analysts.

Saving face
The protest that erupted during the White House welcoming ceremony by a supporter of the Falun Gong spiritual sect — an organization banned in China — was not shown on domestic television. It was also cut from the live coverage beamed into China by CNN and BBC.

The blackout was more about protecting Hu’s image than preventing people from ever learning about the event.

"Keeping the incident off Chinese screens was to save Hu Jintao from humiliation, more than it was to censor the news per se," explained Russell Leigh Moses, a politics professor at Beijing's People's University, who explained that coverage of the protest, including video, was easily available to reasonably sophisiticated Internet users.

Culmination of a campaign
Hu's first presidential visit to the U.S., which came after other forays to other Western capitals since his ascension as China's new leader, marked the culmination of a campaign to establish Hu's credentials as a world leader.

Though no breakthroughs were achieved in his meetings with Bush, China's state-controlled media played up the pomp and ceremony of his meeting at the White House as a signal of Hu’s newly acquired global stature.

Likewise, China's mostly censored news Web sites posted an avalanche of effusive comments about the success of Hu’s trip. "President Hu showed the demeanor of leader of a great power. I am awe-struck!" wrote in one commenter to a Chinese Internet chat room. "President Hu's U.S. visit was truly a success!" added another. "President Hu, you are the pride of the Chinese people," wrote a third.

Hu's visit was "fruitful" and a "milestone,” Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing chimed in, adding that the summit has moved Beijing-Washington ties to a "new stage,” one with "strategic significance.” The U.S. and China are "not only stakeholders, but also constructive partners," Li told the Chinese media.

Marks a ‘new phase’ in U.S. relations
Newspapers added their own chorus of congratulations. Hu’s visit to the U.S. was a hailed for marking a “new phase” in U.S.- China relations by many, and the People’s Daily, China’s flagship newspaper, noted that Hu’s visit marked a “change” in American thinking.

"It demonstrates a new U.S. pragmatic approach to the rapid development of China and its hopes for cooperation with China on global issues," according to Yuang Peng, a commentator for the People's Daily.

Yuang added that the five meetings since last year between Hu and Bush have established "good personal relations" between the two leaders and signals a "mature" relation between the two countries.

Chinese think tanks also joined the torrent of praise. According to the Zhu Shita, analyst with the American Studies Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the biggest gain from Hu's U.S. visit was the debunking of the "China threat" theory,

"Hu's visit marked a new phase in relations with the U.S.," he told the Beijing Youth Daily. "The U.S. has moved from the view that China was a strategic rival to the view that the U.S. and China have intertwined interests," he added.

Still a wide gulf
As is usual in a closed society — and in diplomacy — public pronouncements usually mask the real story.

"The media here has been hailing both the trip and Hu Jintao's efforts — especially his speech at Yale — as overwhelmingly successful, which, in the parlance of Chinese politics, means that Chinese officials know it was nothing of that kind," said Moses, the only American full-time politics professor at the Institute of International Studies at Beijing’s People's University.

"The summit exposed as many shortcomings in the relationship as it highlighted areas of common concern," he explained, citing Taiwan as a core issue for China, while the Bush administration viewed trade as the key problem.  

"There will continue to be cooperation in matters on the periphery — AIDS, environment, clean energy — but further problems where core issues are concerned."

Eric Baculinao is an NBC News producer based in Beijing.


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