Hu’s Big on Democracy?

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Last night, in a speech before a Washington power crowd, Hu Jintao mentioned democracy nine times. Nine times — and his security team and intelligence/police forces did nothing about it.
Jiang Lijun, however, mentions democracy in a draft, unsent email and is sentenced to four years in prison. But China’s willingness to talk about the fate of its imprisoned dissidents in this internet/information age is certainly working at a faster rate — as it was just as recent as November 2003 when Jiang was jailed.
At the rate Hu is going in building a pro-democracy drumbeat, I only hope that he somehow manages to avoid the fate of so many other of his countrymen.
On a less sarcastic note, let me discuss other parts of the dinner I attended last night, a strange, only can happen in Hollywood or D.C. kind of night.
Colin Powell was there, and I did say hello and felt I had to tell him that I was the person who had hosted his former Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson’s famous October 19th speech. Powell was an extraordinary gentlemen and only spoke well of Larry and what he did in the 20 seconds we had together. He even consented to my taking a picture of him with my table partner, the Deputy Director General of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Policy Planning Staff. When it came to a pic with me, Powell was a gentleman about it — but was sending signals that I ought to do my schmoozing in other corners of the room.
But I’m not going to leave Colin Powell alone yet. He was the star of the evening in that massive Marriott Wardman ballroom. Hu Jintao was there, and everyone stood for him at the beginning and stood for him when he left — but it was Colin Powell everyone wanted to see.
But Powell’s power table was not the head table of the evening that must have had fifty people at it.
Powell was at a simple table of ten, close to the fake power table where Hu Jintao sat — but modestly located in the room, no frills — and accessible to people like me who wanted to meet him. And despite the photo thing, he was extraordinarly gracious.
Those Powell was unintentionally overshadowing at his table were Utah Governor and Mrs. Jon Huntsman — a great guy in my view who used to be American Ambassador to Singapore and then was Deputy U.S. Trade Representative under Robert Zoellick. General Alexander Haig was there — and the Chinese love him; even more than Bill Clinton. Speaking of Clinton, his national security advisor Sandy Berger was at the table as was Assistant Secretary for East Asian Affairs Christopher Hill, who was kind enough (like Jon Huntsman) to say that he knew my blog. Bill Clinton’s first chief of staff, Thomas F. “Mack” McLarty and his wife were also at the table.
But again, Powell was the highlight of the evening because he handled himself so modestly. While many outside the Beltway may be unimpressed with the dinner, the attendees, and dislike Powell as someone who has not gone as far as the Brent Scowcrofts and Lawrence Wilkersons of the world to resolve some of the major questions about the Bush administration’s national security and war decisions — I have to say that it was impressive to watch Powell in action.
I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next thirty days or so Colin Powell comes out with an op-ed, done in a sort of Scowcroftian way, that does not blast the Bush team for its past mistakes — but rather gives a hard-headed roster of options and potential consequences regarding Iran. We need more voices articulating potentially effective strategies that lie between appeasement of and war with Iran. I think Powell sees such a public comment as his duty — so be on the watch for such a piece.
Labor Secretary Elaine Chao was one of the opening speakers. She wore pants, which was cool — but gave the most obsequious and sycophantic comments of the night about Hu. She mentioned that America and China were “old friends” five times. She said that the thousands of people standing outside the White House yesterday at lunch to greet Hu Jintao were evidence of the overwhelming friendship in America for China. Guess no one told her that the crowds were Falun Gong.
Others will report the micro-details of Hu’s speech — and it may already be on the web but I’m not in a place where I can check right now — but suffice it to say that he injected all of the politically correct comments about working together on common challenges, etc., etc. etc.
What was really interesting about Hu Jintao’s speech is that, unlike Jiang Zemin, a few years ago, Hu — who speaks English — did not break into English during any part of his speech to deliver an “unambiguous statement” about Taiwan to Americans. In Jiang’s speech, he gave most of it in a high-pitched, bird-song sounding Chinese language — then breaking into tough-sounding, gutteral, heavy-thudding English on Taiwan saying that he wanted no Americans to misunderstand the seriousness of Taiwan to the Chinese people.
In contrast, Hu Jintao spoke zero English on the stage and made Taiwan his 3rd priority out of six that he discussed. And regarding Taiwan, Hu sounded practically dovish with the exception of boiler-plate comments that China wouldn’t accept a change in one-China status or any declaration of independence by Taiwan.
One interesting part of his talk was that he focused a lot on getting balanced economic growth inside China. He commented that per capita incomes in Shangai are $6200; Beijing $5000; Eastern China $1000; and China as a whole $700. This clearly worries him.
Hu also spent a lot of his 25 minute speech on the subject of democracy and human rights. And it wasn’t gloss; perhaps just self-deception. One wonders if he knows what country he is President of because the China we know exists has few of the freedoms, even in aspiration, that Hu seemed to be highlighting.
Hu also said, quite forthrightly, that China was cooperating strongly with the U.S. on attempting to check the further spread of nuclear weapons and of dealing with both North Korea and Iran through diplomatic means.
As an aside, I spoke with a number of top Chinese foreign ministry officials last night — and one of the biggies whose name I can’t mention lest I get arrested in China for draft, unsent emails about Hu’s speech — said that he has no doubt that Iran’s intention is to acquire a nuclear weapon — but he thinks that a full, fuel-cycle capability modeled somewhat on Japan’s system may be where carrots and sticks lead Iran to. Japan is practically an undeclared nuclear weapons state now — meaning it has the capacity to build nuclear weapons but chooses not to. I don’t want to comment on whether this view of Iran’s program is a constructive view or not — I just wanted to log it for future reference.
But what did NOT appear in Hu Jintao’s speech?
First, he mentioned nothing about China’s energy needs or its global energy grab. And he mentioned nothing about its undervalued currency, which is an extremely hot topic.
This tells me that China looks at Iran, North Korea, even Taiwan problems, and environmental and developing nation problems as manageable in some way — but it has a different stance on oil and the cheap yuan.
Oil and the yuan are today’s untouchable topics in China — at least going by Hu Jintao’s speech at the not-quite state dinner.
After the Washington Post blasted Hu for not taking questions during his trip (and I then blasted the Post), the US-China Business Council, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the National Committee on US-China Relations created a fake Q&A session.
It was hilarious. At the beginning of the evening, we were told that there were cards on our table to submit questions for Hu Jintao and that these should be handed to people who would collect them from around the room during dinner.
There were no cards. I want on a hunt for them. Table after table had no cards. No one seemed to mind. No one really wanted to ask questions. So, I ripped a page out of my pocket note book and scribbled a question for the Chinese President.
My question was:

President Hu, thank you for your fascinating speech. You mentioned democracy and the importance of supporting and spreading democracy inside China. Could you define the kind of democracy you mean?

I think it was a polite enough question — but serious — considering he had mentioned the word democracy NINE TIMES.
So, I went to find a staff member of one of the organizations sponsoring to get my question added to the pile. I kept finding security guards and American and Chinese Secret Service guys (and they were all guys) who looked like they wanted me to shut up and sit down with my unanswered question, but I persevered. I eventually found some organizational staffers who looked shocked that anyone had actually written a question down.
I compelled one of them to take my question and actually get it to the head table. Somehow the staffer got the courage to take my question up to the giant head table — and rather than giving my paper and scribbles to Carla Hills who moderated the Q & A, someone gave my piece of paper to Hu himself, who just stuffed it in his pocket.
So, we didn’t get a public airing of my question. What we got were two questions — probably previously contrived — despite Ambassador Hills saying that they had received “so many” questions from people around the room that night.
The Chinese must love us for these kinds of theatrics.
The two questions posed were:

(1) What were the key parts of Hu’s plan to generate balanced economic growth in China and boost domestic consumption? (that was a sizzler — and took Hu 15 minutes to respond); and
(2) What were the key outcomes of meetings with President Bush and how will they affect the future of US-China relations? (softer than the softest softball that Jeff Gannon might have tossed to Scott McClellan; and Hu gave a considerably shorter response than the first question)

It was a power night, room packed with everyone who was anyone except John Sweeney of the AFL/CIO and any other American labor leaders, and I worked hard to try and get a real question asked. And technically, just maybe, Hu is going to read that piece of paper with my scribbled question on it and ponder it a bit.
More later. I’m off to New York for a foreign policy conference over the weekend.
– Steve Clemons