Mr Hu goes to Washington
Jan 18th 2011, 13:28 by The Economist online | BEIJING
As China??s President Hu Jintao heads to America for the pomp and ceremony of a state visit from January 18th to 21st, his country??s state-controlled media have dutifully switched from scowling at the superpower to playing up the benefits of friendship.
Mr Hu wants this visit to be seen by his audience at home as a flawless display of choreographed statesmanship, unmarred by protests or gaffes. (His last official visit in 2006 involved both, for which Mr Hu??s hosts took the blame.) Mr Hu is not a lover of the impromptu, as was evident in the ??interview?? he gave to American correspondents before he left (no meeting, written answers only). He and his officials will be especially nervous this time of being confronted with American public anger over China??s refusal to release Liu Xiaobo, a jailed Nobel peace-prize winner.
But it will not be easy for Mr Hu to guide public opinion at home in the way they want. The Communist Party tries to keep tight control over media commentary on foreign affairs. But the party??s censors, while rigorous in their efforts to purge the Chinese internet of anything critical of the party or its leaders, give free reign to chest-thumping nationalists to vent their spleen on the internet. Their views may not represent those of the general public, but party leaders sometimes feel obliged to heed them.
Even in the print media, glimmers of aberrant opinion occasionally appear. More often these come from the rabid nationalist camp. But there are occasional hints that at least some commentators agree with the prevailing view in America that Chinese foreign policy has gone awry in the last year or so. In an interview published by China Business News (in Chinese), Shen Dingli of Fudan University in Shanghai said that ??some over-confident actions of ours in the last couple of years?? had caused America to believe its suspicions about China had been proven correct. Mr Shen was also quoted as saying that China had ??overestimated its strength?? in dealing with America.
chinaSMACK, a website offering translations of Chinese internet content, has provided a useful sample of some online comment in China on the country??s first known test on January 11th of its new stealth fighter, the J-20. While it found some predictably triumphalist remarks, it also
spotted a few voices of scepticism such as ??what does it have to do with the lowly common people?? and ??I??d rather see the price of cabbage fall 5 mao (8 cents)??.
China Daily, an English-language newspaper, published the results of an opinion poll on public views of America which suggested a surprising degree of sympathy after a year in which the state media have poured vitriol on the country for selling arms to Taiwan, for Barack Obama??s meeting with the Dalai Lama, for supporting Liu Xiaobo, for staging wargames in the Yellow Sea and various other sins. About a third of students aged between 16 and 17 at Beijing No 80 Middle School said that Mr Obama gave them the best impression of all the American presidents they knew. The school is widely recognised as one of the best in the capital, with many of its graduates going to top universities.
Contrary to the impression of some observers, the newspaper said the survey found that public attitudes towards America had been growing more favourable in recent years. The country??s ??likeability factor??, measured on a scale of one to a hundred, had fallen last year to 48.2 from a peak in 2009 of 65.1, it said. Not a bad, for a China-bashing hegemon.