By James Fallows, who lived and worked in China and Japan for many years: “Barack Obama’s recent swing through Asia was a relative success, and certainly nothing like the disaster that most U.S. coverage implied.” And in a more recent post, Fallows says the press corps is guilty of distorting reality by “compressing every complex issue into the narrative of the DC-based ‘horse race.'”
Fallows quoted Alexandra Fenwick in the Columbia Journalism Review:
In almost every analysis of the trip, Chinese officials were portrayed as optimistic and newly emboldened to stand up to American interests and Obama was cast in the role of the meek debtor, standing with hat in hand. The line is that little was achieved and Obama was stifled, literally by state television and figuratively by the Chinese upper hand in the power dynamic.
… that negative narrative failed to take several things into account: the strict Chinese image control that doesnâ€™t allow the sort of media celebrity that Obama enjoys elsewhere in the world; progress made in backroom diplomatic discussions; Obamaâ€™s stated objectives; and his quiet diplomatic style that doesnâ€™t produce the kind of sound bytes that a scorekeeping-focused press Washington press corps feeds on.
Fenwick interviewed former New York Times Shanghai bureau chief Howard French, who basically said the reporting on the Asian trip sucked out loud. “Everything is shot through this prism of short-term political calculation as opposed to thinking seriously about stuff,” he said.
See also Trish Durkin at The Week. In brief, she says the idea that Obama somehow failed to obtain anything was based on the erroneous idea that there was anything that could have been obtained on one trip.
Last but not least, there is the bupkuss factor: the consenus that Obama, poor jerk, has come away with nothing. No breakthroughs. No deals. Not even an Oprah “a-ha” moment. It’s as if everybody thinks that some concrete public concession on at least one of the biggies â€” carbon emissions or political reform or North Korea â€” is something a U.S. president just can’t leave China without, like a silk robe or a ceramic tea set.
But in reality, it’s not like that. Every key element of the Sino-American relationship is too big and too convoluted for the thumbs-up/thumbs-down approach to apply.
So, relax, everybody. Obama came, he charmed, he left. And for now, that’s perfectly fine.