THE STASH NOVEMBER 17, 2009
As I mentioned yesterday, I'm somewhat skeptical of the benefits of "getting tough" with the Chinese on issues like currency manipulation and our trade deficit. (I think you need to do it, but you've got to be sophisticated about it.) But Obama's town hall meeting in Shanghai, which was heavily stage-managed by the Chinese, is one place I think the administration really should have gotten tough. From the NYT:
The event in some respects signaled a retreat from the reception given at least two earlier American presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, who both asked for, and were granted, the opportunity to address the Chinese people and answer their questions in a live national broadcast.
One local television station broadcast Mr. Obama’s session live. But the official Xinhua news agency offered only a transcript of the exchange on its Web site instead of the live Webcast it had promised. The White House streamed the event live on its Web site, which did not appear to be blocked inside China. But that site is not a common destination for most Chinese looking for breaking news.
I obviously don't know all the back and forth that went into negotiating the protocol for this event, and so I hate to second-guess. But this strikes me as a bluff by the Chinese that we probably could have called. Given the precedent with Clinton and Bush, it doesn't seem like the Chinese were going to blow up the whole trip over our insistence on a live national broadcast. Likewise, I'm not sure when the administration found out that Xinhua would only provide a transcript rather than stream the event live, but, if it was beforehand, it seems like it would have been worth standing our ground. And if it was afterward, it seems like it would be worth retaliating in some small but unmistakable way. This all just seems like classic salami tactics by the Chinese...
P.S. Of course, it's possible that the administration is planning to do just that. Worth keeping an eye on.