Stark contrast of two presidential visits

By Harvey Dzodin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, August 1, 2018
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Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech titled "Keeping Abreast of the Trend of the Times to Achieve Common Development" at the BRICS Business Forum in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 25, 2018. [Photo/Xinhua]

Do you remember the Aesop fable about the North Wind and the Sun? Although originating in ancient Greece, it is as fresh and relevant today as it was millennia ago, and I was vividly reminded of it when thinking about contrasting high profile efforts of July summitry and diplomacy by President Xi Jinping and his American counterpart Donald J. Trump. 

In the fable, the North Wind and the Sun argue over which is stronger. They spotted a traveler wrapped in a warm coat and agreed the one who could make the traveler remove it would win the argument. The wind blew ever harder, causing the traveler to draw his coat tightly around him; the sun then shone, and the traveler removed his coat. You don't have to be a genius to figure out which president howls like the wind and which brings sunshine.

After Trump's obnoxious performance at the G-7 in June, most government leaders these days tend to dread Trump's presence, and his bull in a china shop behavior. He didn't disappoint! In the U.K., he criticized Prime Minister Theresa May in a tabloid newspaper belonging to one of his buddies, Rupert Murdoch, better known for scantily clad lasses than in-depth analysis. 

He suggested newly-resigned Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson would make a great replacement for Mrs. May, who seems to be hanging on to her position by her fingernails over the Brexit imbroglio. 

He further broke court protocol by keeping 92-year-old Queen Elizabeth waiting in very hot weather and then by walking in front of her, not alongside. Too bad the monarch can no longer put people like him in the Tower of London and throw away the key. 

At the NATO meeting in Belgium, Trump threatened other members who didn't immediately meet a defense spending target contribution of 2 percent of their national GDP, even though this goal was for 2024; he then unilaterally raised the ransom to 4 percent before dropping the demand. 

At least, this time, he signed the meeting's protocol and didn't withdraw – as he did at the G-7. He seemed, however, to spend the most energy promoting one of his golf courses in Scotland, even as a paraglider flew overhead with the banner declaring “Trump well below par.” Trump's tacky marketing ploy violates the spirit of the American Constitution if not the law itself.

Then came his private meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Weeks later, we still don't know what was discussed. For some inexplicable reason, in the press conference that followed, Trump was Putin's lap dog only to instantly change his stance upon returning to Washington. What power does Putin have over our stable genius? Maybe time will tell.

President Xi's trip, mainly to Africa, was a complete contrast. You'd expect nothing less from the head of a great nation with a sense of both its illustrious history and current national rejuvenation.

For centuries, Africa and Africans have been raped by various colonial powers, exploiting the continent for its natural resources such as gold, silver and diamonds, rare woods, tropical fruits and, until relatively recently, enslaved men, women and children. 

More recently other resources, such as uranium, cobalt, bauxite and oil, have been sought after. Ironically, despite possessing such riches, Africa generally remains pitifully poor. 

China, itself is no stranger to exploitation by some of the same colonial powers during its so-called Century of Humiliation amid the death throes of the Qing Dynasty. President Xi's first visit to Africa after his re-election to a second term, including Senegal, Rwanda, Mauritius as well as the annual BRICS summit in South Africa, was organized to further help the African continent upgrade its infrastructure and connect to China and the rest of the world via the Belt and Road Initiative. 

China has been paying the closest attention to Africa since the beginning of this century. In 2006 it hosted the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and will do so again this September. 

China is obviously looking to play a long game, while the U.S. no longer seems to know what it is doing. 

Decades ago, I was lucky enough to work for G. Mennen Williams, President Kennedy's Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. He got in trouble for promoting the idea of “Africa for the Africans,” but I think this is very much the framework China is building on that continent today with its BRI approach. 

Infrastructure in Africa is still at the basic stage, but President Xi's visit resulted in the signing of numerous agreements to change that. This is in addition to loans for African energy and infrastructure projects that increased from US$3 billion in 2016 to US$8.8 billion last year. 

Also noteworthy was President Xi's continued spirited defense of globalization and the international order. He championed them in January 2017, days before Trump was inaugurated and promptly abandoned them for his selfish “America first” policy.

Trump seems to know nothing about Africa. At the United Nations last year, he referred to the nonexistent African country of “Nambia.” Maybe he meant Namibia (or perhaps Zambia)? Earlier this year, he said Africa was made up of a bunch of “shithole” countries. 

Apparently, Trump doesn't know or care that, according to the UN, half of global population growth from now until mid-century will be in Africa. And according to the World Bank, in 2100 Africa's population will balloon from today's 1.3 billion to four billion. That's a lot of potential students for Trump University he's taking a pass on.

President Trump's European trip was the North Wind huffing and puffing. President Xi's visit was full of sunshine. As in the days of old, the sun won yet again.

The author is a senior research fellow for the think tank Center for China and Globalization, senior adviser to Tsinghua University and former director and vice president of ABC Television in New York.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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