BEIJING — Chinese President Hu Jintao’s state visit to Washington was widely applauded at home in China on Thursday, with the honor of a state banquet seen as validation of China’s rise over the past decade to global economic and political prominence.
The state-run China Daily ran a banner headline heralding a new chapter in relations, emphasizing the honors accorded to Hu as well as the $45 billion in business deals sealed between the sides during the visit.
“Leaders hail symbiotic ties,” ran the headline in the Global Times, a newspaper published by the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily. “A historic masterstroke of China-U.S. diplomacy with global significance,” was how the official Xinhua News Agency titled a news analysis of the visit.
Papers covered their front pages with pictures of Hu meeting President Barack Obama and speaking at the official welcoming ceremony on the White House’s South Lawn.
Beijing residents interviewed on the street Thursday were overwhelmingly positive about the reception accorded to their country’s leader.
“China and the U.S. aren’t enemies. They’re countries that need to work together. China needs the U.S. for its development and the U.S. needs China’s development,” said office worker Sun Bin.
“A lot of people are still getting used to China’s becoming big and powerful. That’s why this visit is important,” said another Beijing resident, who only gave his surname, Meng.
Peking University scholar Zhu Feng said the frank exchanges between the leaders on controversial issues spoke to the maturity of their relationship.
“They have been facing up to the controversial issues, seeking future routes of bilateral cooperation,” Zhu said.
State broadcaster CCTV’s main noon news broadcast played up the pomp and ceremony surrounding the visit, running extensive footage of the welcoming ceremony, including the playing of the two countries’ national anthems in their entirety.
However, the broadcast mostly skipped over the news conference that followed the meeting, at which Hu was asked about China’s human rights record.
China defines human rights in terms of improvements in quality of life such as higher incomes and better living conditions, rather than civil liberties and freedom of speech that define such values in the West. Hu responded by saying that “a lot still needs to be done in China on human rights,” although he said progress had been made.
The two leaders are seeking to reinvigorate the relationship following a tension-filled year in which their countries feuded over online censorship, Obama’s meeting with Tibet’s exiled leader the Dalai Lama, arms sales for Taiwan, and regional frictions surrounding Japan, the Korean peninsula, and the South China Sea.
“Both sides have taken pains to demonstrate on a part of the United States for example, to respond to the domestic pressure and yet not to be seen to be hostile towards China,” said Joseph Cheng, head of the Contemporary China Research Center at the City University of Hong Kong. “On the other hand, the Chinese leader would certainly like to secure the good will of the American public.”