Hu Jintao came, saw, conquered his sniffles, gave $45 billion, tapped his foot to Herbie Hancock, showed that China is still open for business, and got rock star treatment in Chicago. As with almost all state summits, the balance between symbolism and substance tipped in favor of the former. That is not a bad thing in and of itself, as Gady Epstein at Forbes perceptibly notes. As I wrote previously, the "substance" component was roughly what one would realistically expect, a slew of clean energy deals, many of which were building on agreements from 2009. But Hu's accommodating attitude on the "indigenous innovation" issue may turn out to be above and beyond expectations (more on this thorny issue later).
The Chinese president didn't come to town just to secure a "win" for China in the eyes of Americans of course. He wanted a "win" for himself in the eyes of the Chinese, to put a notable foreign policy feather in his cap as someone who righted a bilateral relationship that looked like it was venturing down the wrong hutong last year. The official Chinese media are working overtime to shape the image of Hu as a senior statesman, as evidenced by this Xinhua page-o'-hagiography (in Chinese) dedicated entirely to his trip. And the China Daily is obsessively pointing out specific diction in the joint statement as indicative of a "new era" in the relationship:
Reiterating their commitment to developing a positive, cooperative and comprehensive China-US relationship as they agreed in 2009, Chinese and US leaders also vowed to build "a cooperative partnership based on mutual respect and mutual benefit", during Hu's visit to Washington...
...In a nutshell, every word matters in the new expression.
As "mutual respect" urges both China and the United States to respect each other's core interests and path of development, "mutual benefit" means that both countries are expected to achieve a win-win situation rather than a win-lose one, and bring about common prosperity.
"Partnership," meanwhile, shows that the two powers, instead of being rivals, are closely linked with each other in actions to cope with regional and international issues.
Those accustomed to the "Chinese way" should be familiar with the incessant emphasis on turns of phrase and discrete verbiage that might seem insignificant or anodyne to others. Agreeing at the outset on the "principles" of the relationship -- in this case "mutual respect" -- can be as important to the Chinese as the actual substance. Score 1 for Hu Jintao then (maybe?) since I'm sure the verbiage in the statement was strenuously negotiated. As the state media is pumping up the historic nature of the visit, it's unclear how much political capital Hu garnered as a result, or even how his performance sat with the irreverent and wily Chinese netizens.