Sunday, May 11, 2008

President Hu Jintao's visit to Japan

The New York Times basically got it right, I think, by saying it was a start. Of course it's a start, just like China's talks with Tibet is a start. Quoting:

Both sides worked hard to ensure that all went well this time, touching only cursorily on their bitter history. The two leaders agreed to regular summits and increased civil and military exchanges. Then there were the two pandas that Mr. Hu offered to Japan in lieu of one that recently died — an emotionally seductive touch.

Where this leads is uncertain, but it's a positive step for both countries. Yet I couldn't help but notice in Friday's Chinese telecast of the visit -- which I watched at Nainai's -- a lot of what the NY Times calls "friendly symbolism" and not enough substance. This was, no doubt, a deliberate attempt on the part of CCTV1 to paint a story of harmony. The scene most memorable to me was of President Hu visiting a Japanese elementary school and giving a brief lesson on Li Bai's famous poem, "Jing Ye si" (Quiet Night Thoughts), telling the students what they probably already knew: that Li Bai wrote the following while away from home and missing it dearly.

静 夜思


I wake and moonbeams play around my bed
Glittering like hoarfrost to my wondering eyes.
Upwards to the glorious moon I raise my head,
Then lay down and thoughts of home arise.

And then he fielded a question from a young girl on his favorite Friendlies. "Let me tell you," he said, "I like all five equally." He beamed, immensely proud of his own answer.

Diplomatically speaking, Hu's trip was a success. But I wonder if, after each day, after being shuttled from one PR stunt to another, he didn't retire to his hotel room, throw off his glasses, open a bottle of Scotch and think, Goddamn, what could I possibly do to degrade myself further? He was, as shown on CCTV1, nothing more than an expensive emissary, and while I know his trip was of utmost importance -- certainly his talks with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda must have been policy-oriented -- it was just interesting seeing it depicted on state television. I wonder if CCTV didn't do him injustice by presenting the hard news with a soft edge (probably not... the majority of the viewing audience was entertained, I imagine, and those who know better probably didn't watch anyway). The extent of the impartiality of China's news telecasts reveals itself in stunning clarity, and makes you appreciate America's network news, despite all its problems.

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