Obama went into those sessions like Kennedy: with great hope that his charm and appeal to reason – qualities so admired in the United States – would work well with Hu. By numerous accounts, that is not at all what happened: reports from correspondents on the scene are replete with statements that Hu stiffed the President, that he rejected arguments about Chinese human rights and currency behavior while scolding the U.S. for its trade policies, and that he stage-managed the visit so that Obama – unlike Clinton and Bush before him – was unable to reach a large Chinese audience through television.
To be fair, President Obama seemed to handle the situation better than Kennedy did: he wasn’t humiliated, he did secure some generalized agreements, and – so the White House believes – he laid the groundwork for a productive, long-term relationship. We shall see.
But it is equally clear that this was not at all the kind of summit that an American administration would want – and it does bear some ominous similarities to the Kennedy-Khrushchev talks in Vienna.
It would seem wise not only for President Obama but for all Americans to treat this as a wake-up call.