Opinion: Powerful images, little substance | Opinion | DW | 24.09.2015
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Opinion: Powerful images, little substance

US President Obama is set to host his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the White House. While the meeting is unlikely to produce major breakthroughs, Xi will get what's most important to him, says DW's Philipp Bilsky.

US and Chinese officials planning President Xi's state visit to the US have been involved in a tug-of-war in recent days. The two sides have had to work painstakingly to reach a mutually acceptable arrangement in terms of the agenda for the trip and the concrete results the two leaders could declare to have achieved following their summit.

There are more than enough issues to discuss between the two global powers: the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, cybersecurity, climate change, the recent turbulence in Chinese stock markets, the depreciation of the Chinese currency, US monetary policy, the worsening human rights situation in China under Xi, and the challenge of dealing with belligerent North Korea. The list is almost endless.

Small steps

Nevertheless, only minor steps forward are to be expected. High on the US agenda is the issue of cybersecurity, and one can expect the two countries to sign a deal on cyber attacks which will likely be touted as "historic."

Bilsky Philipp Kommentarbild App

DW's Philipp Bilsky

However, the agreement will likely be in no way related to the most recent cyber attacks China has been accused of launching. We'll probably also see some minor progress being made on issues such as climate change and investment.

But no breakthroughs are expected on controversial issues such as Beijing's land reclamation activities in the South China Sea. The fact of the matter is the two countries have fundamentally different interests on many fronts; so reaching a compromise, or even finding common ground, would prove to be very difficult.

Powerful images guaranteed

But regardless of what the final document will look like, one thing is clear: the meeting will result in some powerful images. The Chinese president will be presented with the highest honors offered by the United States to a foreign head of state: an official reception with a 21-gun salute and a state dinner. After meeting with President Obama, Xi will give a speech at the United Nations.

All this will enable Chinese state media to showcase the Chinese leader as a statesman getting the recognition they believe he deserves from the international community, and in particular, the United States. In this context, dealing with major policy issues will play an almost secondary role.

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