x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

China can earn the respect it so clearly craves

The Chinese president's visit to Washington is the most significant for three decades.

When Deng Xiaoping visited Washington 32 years ago this month, China and the United States were just getting acquainted. His invitation was sent secretly. The talks were short on substance.

Much has changed in the last three decades. The current Chinese president, Hu Jintao, arrives in Washington to red carpet treatment - including full military honours.

And yet no amount of pageantry can hide the many differences that remain between two of the world's most important economies. How these issues are addressed is of immense global importance.

For Mr Hu, winning American respect for China's rise will sit near the top of his agenda. In an interview before leaving China, Mr Hu laid out his vision for a successful visit; he used the word "respect" six times.

Washington, of course, doesn't need rhetorical reminders to be cognisant of China's new power. Militarily, China is flexing its muscles. During the visit of the American defence secretary Robert Gates to China last week, China made a point of testing its newest military tool, a stealth aircraft. China also continues to expand economically, registering an 11 per cent average annual increase in GDP.

For these and other reasons, China's emergence is no longer in doubt. The question now is how governments in the West - and the rest of the world, including those in the Gulf - should respond.

Mr Hu may argue that China deserves recognition for its stature, but with respect comes increased responsibility. Curbing free speech, marginalising minorities and jailing dissidents does little to inspire confidence. The challenge for Mr Obama will be striking a balance between praise and admonishment, a line he failed to walk during his visit to Beijing last year.

China could do much more to earn the world's admiration. As was reported this week, China now lends more money to developing countries than the World Bank. These loans are welcomed in regions not typically showered with foreign investment, but too often, China throws cash at questionable regimes and corrupt governments, from Myanmar to North Korea, undercutting international efforts to tease pit reforms. Instead of feeding its voracious energy needs with abandon, China should be encouraged to uses its capital more responsibly.

In his interview before departing Beijing, Mr Hu repeated what has become an oft-uttered Chinese maxim: The US and China carry the world's "important responsibilities".

Words are a welcome start. Now, China must live up to them.