President Xi Jinping of China made his first state visit to the US this month with small group of advisers at his side. However, the president’s inner circle seems reluctant to talk to the American officials and scholars.
The president’s diplomatic entourage included Mr. Wang, the Communist Party’s elite Politburo. Mr. Wang who is the current adviser to Mr. Xi had studied American society as a professor in Shanghai. In the process, he got to know about various American officials and scholars.
However, people close to Mr. Wang back then say that he has become unapproachable and cold towards western officials. He repeatedly ignored invitations to engage in discussions with them on the sidelines of international forums.
According to the New York Times’ chief diplomatic correspondent, Jana Perlez, the icy attitude is not only the case for Mr. Wang but also other advisors including Li Zhanshu and Liu He who are Mr. Xi’s chief of staff and top economic advisor respectively.
The cold attitude of the inner circle of Mr. Xi towards the American officials presents a great challenge for the US. Some say that Mr. Xi’s administration is the most secretive to have visited the states so far.
In the past, foreign officials could easily speak with senior Chinese officials and trust that they were proxies for upper management. The most famous example is Zhou Enlai who was the Chinese premier under Mao and with whom Henry Kissinger was able to negotiate the US-China rapprochement.
According to David M. Lampton, the director of China Studies at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, one of the most pressing problems in US-China relations is that we don’t know these people. Most of the officials do not have a very good understanding of who speaks on behalf of Xi Jinping.
The cold attitude of Mr. Xi’s inner circle to develop ties with Western officials is in accordance with the fundamental belief that Western ideals may lead to a “color revolution” undermining the fundamental belief of the Communist manifesto.
According to Lampton, if your party’s internal belief is threatened by external or internal forces, the natural reaction is to bring the organization together and reduce the flow of information. There is a general belief that Mr. Xi keeps a close watch on his advisors especially the technocrats in the ministry and that he relies on their knowledge and advice in making important decisions.
According to a senior Asian adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Ms. Binnie S. Glaser, is really amazed at how the American officials are not really sure they are able to get their message across to the President.
The Chinese president’s tight grip on power does not permit others to speak on his behalf. As a result, the western officials and scholars have difficulty in penetrating President Xi’s advisors and getting to know the men who advise him on state policy and other matters.