In the weeks that led up to Chinese President Hu Jintao's first, and likely last, official state visit to Washington today, numerous pensées on the world's most important bilateral relationship splashed across various media. They've included senior statesmen and well-known China hands like Brzezinski and Kissinger (also see Shambaugh and Hachigian and CSIS video). Of course, U.S. officials have also taken turns discussing what's at stake, notably from Tim Geithner, Hillary Clinton, and Bob Gates. Much of the official-speak contrasts with a mainstream U.S. media that seems to have run away with the "China Story" (OK, did Glenn Beck really dedicate an entire show to China?), breathlessly proclaiming Chinese economic superiority -- "our banker, so much money and technology!" -- and lately military prowess -- "oh no, they tested a single stealth fighter!" I would echo my colleague James Fallows that it may not be the best idea to persistently refract our own self-doubts about the state of America through the "Chinese juggernaut" prism.
For China's part, President Hu answered a Wall Street JournalQ&A from the Chinese perspective, while Vice Premier Li Keqiang recently penned an op-ed for the Financial Times. And, importantly, State Councilor Dai Bingguo, who basically runs China's foreign policy, published a piece that seems to reinforce Beijing's collective toning-down of rhetoric on the eve of Hu's visit. The reassertion of the concept of "peaceful development," which has been the guiding principle of Chinese foreign policy for at least a decade or more, indicates mainstream moderate voices may be wresting control again. All in all, the message from Beijing is pretty clear: Do not be afraid of a growing China.
Well it sure sounds like many are invested in what is expected to be a crucial meeting. Indeed, on protocol alone, it is important. While both sides have touted the fact that Obama and Hu have already met one-on-one on seven or eight different occasions, those were far different from a state visit. Even when Hu visited in 2006 under the Bush administration, it was a "semi-official" state visit, with the Chinese president only getting a state lunch. This time, the White House is pulling all the stops, with the requisite pomp, 21-gun salute on the White House lawn, and a lavish state dinner. Word has it that Hu will also visit with key congressional members as well as travel to Chicago to meet with business leaders.
For the Chinese officials -- who are ever so meticulous about each and every detail of the event protocol -- this kind of treatment immediately telegraphs to Beijing the importance of the bilateral relationship. Their particular care on how events proceed is not without reason. Unlike Obama's China visit in 2009, where China could stage-manage and control media, Hu and his delegation realize that they are powerless in the hands of U.S. media and the freedom of protesters. I suspect the memory of that Chinese Falun Gong heckler in front of the White House during Hu's 2006 speech has not been completely erased. Perhaps this is why China plans to run ads that portray the country in a positive light during the visit. Hooray soft power?
But what will be expected of the substance of the meeting, now that it has been imbued with such significance? Without rehashing what many have said, one recurring item on the U.S.-China "wish-list" is the idea of drafting a new joint communique/blueprint that shapes the next 20-30 years of the bilateral relationship. It would aim to recognize that the dynamics between the two major powers and in the global environment have changed and shape how to re-calibrate that relationship appropriately for the 21st century. This isn't going to be a "G2," largely because the Chinese won't go for it. Rather, the aim may be to set some new parameters to guide the behavior of the two largest economies in the world, not only toward each other but their respective roles in the world order.
Whether such an aspirational document materializes is impossible to say at this point. But even without it, an instructive model to follow is the 2009 U.S.-China joint statement. Many may have forgotten that far-ranging document, agreed on by the two presidents, so I would urge you to refer to it again. Much of the substance or "deliverables" of this meeting could potentially emanate from executing on the type of issues raised in that older statement. Certainly, on lower-hanging fruit like clean energy collaboration, investment, and joint research, the chances for deliverables are good. In fact, Hu and his delegation will almost certainly engage in a buying mission as a way to show that China supports US export strategy. Recall that in 2006, Hu visited Seattle first, during which Chinese computer maker Lenovo pledged to buy $1.2 billion worth of legitimate copies of Windows for its machines. On security issues like North Korea, it is difficult to envision significant breakthroughs over a mere four days. Even if progress is made, it will remain behind closed doors and will only be known through a series of actions after the fact.
This brings up a larger point about the current state of the bilateral relationship. It has simply become so multifaceted and pluralistic, with each country's interests extending globally, that friction over diverging interests are unavoidable. But nor are they unmanageable. Tension and common interests are proliferating across virtually every dimension, and depending on which end of the spectrum is chosen for emphasis, a different view of the relationship emerges. It might seem a fairly prosaic observation, but it is ever more pressing to not allow the pendulum to reside at either end of the spectrum (the Chinese are guilty of the same); instead, to inject the necessary nuance required of a more sophisticated and interconnected relationship. Fundamentally, each seems to abide by the notion that neither can afford NOT to get the relationship right.
In fact, citizens in both countries seem to agree. A recent Pew poll showed that nearly 60 percent of respondents believe that it is "very important" to strengthen the US-China relationship. Similarly, a Chinese poll conducted by respected Horizon Research Consultancy jointly with China Daily found that about 55 percent of respondents believe the bilateral relationship is very important (90% say it is "important").
I, too, remain cautiously optimistic. Stay tuned for a wrap-up of Hu's visit.
Damien Ma is a fellow at the Paulson Institute, where he focuses on investment and policy programs, and on the Institute's research and think-tank activities. Previously, he was a lead China analyst at Eurasia Group, a political risk research and advisory firm.
Strangling public-sector unions in Wisconsin has shrunk teachers’ pay and benefits. Who’s next?
Back in 2009, Rick Erickson was happy with his job as a teacher in one of the state’s northernmost school districts on the shores of Lake Superior. He made $35,770 a year teaching chemistry and physics, which wasn’t a lot of money, but then again, he received stellar healthcare and pension benefits, and could talk honestly with administrators about what he needed as a teacher every two years when his union sat down with the school district in collective bargaining sessions.
Then, five years ago, Wisconsin passed Act 10, also known as the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill, which dramatically limited the ability of teachers and other public employees to bargain with employers on wages, benefits, and working conditions. After Act 10,Erickson saw his take-home pay drop dramatically: He now makes $30,650. His wife is a teacher, too, and together they make 11 percent less than they did before Act 10. The local union he once led no longer exists, and so he can’t bargain with the school district for things like prep time and sick days. He pays more for health care and his pension, and he says both he and his wife may now not be able to retire until they are much older than they had planned.
Americans are optimistic about the communities they live in—but not their nation. Why?
I have been alive for a long time. I remember the assassination of John F. Kennedy, when I was a 10th-grader, and then watching with my family through the grim following days as newscasters said that something had changed forever. The next dozen years were nearly nonstop trauma for the country. More assassinations. Riots in most major cities. All the pain and waste and tragedy of the Vietnam War, and then the public sense of heading into the utterly unknown as, for the first time ever, a president was forced to resign. Americans of my children’s generation can remember the modern wave of shocks and dislocations that started but did not end with the 9/11 attacks.
Through all this time, I have been personally and professionally, and increasingly, an American optimist. The long years I have spent living and working outside the United States have not simply made me more aware of my own strong identity as an American. They have also sharpened my appreciation for the practical ramifications of the American idea. For me this is the belief that through its cycle of struggle and renewal, the United States is in a continual process of becoming a better version of itself. What I have seen directly over the past decade, roughly half in China and much of the rest in reporting trips around the United States, has reinforced my sense that our current era has been another one of painful but remarkable reinvention, in which the United States is doing more than most other societies to position itself, despite technological and economic challenges, for a new era of prosperity, opportunity, and hope.
The same part of the brain that allows us to step into the shoes of others also helps us restrain ourselves.
You’ve likely seen the video before: a stream of kids, confronted with a single, alluring marshmallow. If they can resist eating it for 15 minutes, they’ll get two. Some do. Others cave almost immediately.
This “Marshmallow Test,” first conducted in the 1960s, perfectly illustrates the ongoing war between impulsivity and self-control. The kids have to tamp down their immediate desires and focus on long-term goals—an ability that correlates with their later health, wealth, and academic success, and that is supposedly controlled by the front part of the brain. But a new study by Alexander Soutschek at the University of Zurich suggests that self-control is also influenced by another brain region—and one that casts this ability in a different light.
Why the ingrained expectation that women should desire to become parents is unhealthy
In 2008, Nebraska decriminalized child abandonment. The move was part of a "safe haven" law designed to address increased rates of infanticide in the state. Like other safe-haven laws, parents in Nebraska who felt unprepared to care for their babies could drop them off in a designated location without fear of arrest and prosecution. But legislators made a major logistical error: They failed to implement an age limitation for dropped-off children.
Within just weeks of the law passing, parents started dropping off their kids. But here's the rub: None of them were infants. A couple of months in, 36 children had been left in state hospitals and police stations. Twenty-two of the children were over 13 years old. A 51-year-old grandmother dropped off a 12-year-old boy. One father dropped off his entire family -- nine children from ages one to 17. Others drove from neighboring states to drop off their children once they heard that they could abandon them without repercussion.
The most recent math results from an international survey place the United States near the bottom.
U.S. students are stagnating in reading and science proficiency while their math performance declined slightly, based on new results from an international assessment, cueing the usual spate of alarmed headlines, as well as no shortage of opportunities to misapply the data.
On the Program for International School Assessment (PISA), U.S. scores in reading and science were about the same as three years ago, leaving Americans near the middle of the pack. Results were lower in math in 2015 compared with 2012, placing the U.S. near the bottom of 35 industrialized nations. Singapore was the top performer in all three subject areas.
Unless he divests himself of his business holdings, the president-elect could violate constitutional rules meant to guard against corruption.
With the recent news that two Republican electors are refusing to vote for Donald Trump, we have been inundated with inquiries asking whether other electors should decline to select Trump because of a particular constitutional issue. It’s one we worked on when we were advising Presidents Bush and Obama, respectively: the Emoluments Clause.
Every elector must search his or her own conscience, but after a blizzard of reporting on the president-elect’s foreign business relations in recent days, it appears that Trump will be in violation of this clause of the Constitution from the moment he takes office—and the plan for his business that he hinted at on Twitter last week does not solve the problem.
Everyone has someone on their holiday shopping list who’s impossible to buy for. For the second year in a row, we asked Atlantic readers to describe their someone, and brainstormed a few perfect gift ideas for them.
There should be a word for it—the agony of loving someone, or feeling familially obligated to them, and having no idea what to buy them as the next gift-giving occasion draws near. Liebengeschenkenschmerz? We’ll workshop it.
Even if you’re a winter-holiday fanatic, that anxiety can put a damper on seasonal festivity. So, for the second year in a row, we set out to help, with a different take on the traditional gift guide. Last month, we put out a call to Atlantic readers to describe the person on their shopping list who’s the most difficult to buy for. We picked 15 across the spectra of relationship, age, gender, and location, and a collection of Atlantic staffers buckled down to brainstorm some fitting gift ideas. (Note: The descriptions from readers, in italics below, have been edited lightly for style and clarity.) Maybe one of our suggestions will suit the impossible someone on your list, or otherwise inspire some gift-giving greatness.
Areas of the country Trump won by large margins are particularly vulnerable to the environmental devastation wrought by climate change.
On the heels of President-elect Donald Trump’s meeting this Monday with environmentalist and former vice president Al Gore, 97 percent of the world’s scientists might have breathed (just a little) easier. Here was a signal—however tentative—that the incoming president was at least interested in hearing the views of those who consider climate change to be a looming threat, and who would prefer the United States do something about it. The meeting, as my colleague Robinson Meyer writes, was arranged by the first daughter, Ivanka Trump. Presumably, it is part of a reported effort to make climate change “one of her signature issues” in a bid to win over “liberals disgusted and depressed with the tone and tenor of the new leader of the free world.”
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.
To many white Trump voters, the problem wasn’t her economic stance, but the larger vision—a multi-ethnic social democracy—that it was a part of.
Perhaps the clearest takeaway from the November election for many liberals is that Hillary Clinton lost because she ignored the working class.
In the days after her shocking loss, Democrats complained that Clinton had no jobs agenda. A widely shared essay in The Nationblamed Clinton's "neoliberalism" for abandoning the voters who swung the election. “I come from the white working class,” Bernie Sanders said on CBS This Morning, “and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party cannot talk to where I came from.”
But here is the troubling reality for civically minded liberals looking to justify their preferred strategies: Hillary Clinton talked about the working class, middle class jobs, and the dignity of work constantly. And she still lost.