China Has One Trillion Reasons to Keep a Close Eye on Biden

Biden's "noodle diplomacy" isn't overshadowing the money the U.S. owes China

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Yesterday we looked at how U.S. journalists are covering Vice President Joe Biden's tour of China, which is aimed at strengthening America's relationship with its biggest creditor after the U.S. debt ceiling debate and credit rating downgrade. Reporters fumed at getting shoved out of a meeting between Biden and Chinese Vice President Xi Jingping and chided the Vice President for ordering noodles instead of pig intestines at a local restaurant. But Biden's visit is even bigger news in China. As of this writing, the homepages of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times are all leading with other stories, and only the Post and the LA Times even mention Biden's name, lower down on their respective pages. But many of China's major news outlets--including the People's Daily, Xinhua, and CCTV--all have the visit as one of their top stories. Just look at the homepage of the Global Times and the number of times Biden's pictures appears on the homepage of China Daily:

Beyond straightforward reporting on Biden's meetings with various Communist Party figures and interviews with the Vice President, the press is using the occasion to focus on China's concern over its status as the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt. The Beijing Times delves into why China keeps increasing its U.S. debt holdings while the Chongqing Times asks how China will cope with the U.S. debt crisis and China Daily quotes experts who say China should reduce its holdings of U.S. Treasury bonds "despite reassurances from US Vice-President Joe Biden." As Biden landed in China, a Xinhua op-ed urged Washington to "shoulder the global responsibility befitting an economic giant" and "carry out responsible and effective measures to cure its debt addiction."
The media is also reflecting on the larger China-U.S. relationship. Xinhua, for example, worries that relations between the two countries may suffer during the 2012 elections. "History shows that China related issues are easy targets for U.S. politicians from both political parties and the bilateral relationship tends to fall prey to their mud-slinging," the state-run news agency writes. "The issue of US arms sales to Taiwan is a tool often used by some lawmakers to make noises and catch attention."

As for Biden's decision to dine at a family-run Beijing restaurant yesterday? The Global Times is leading with a glowing report on the lunch, noting that "the move impressed many locals, with Internet users contrasting Biden's chummy manner with some Chinese officials who prefer to be serious when facing the public." One researcher tells the paper, "A meal at a local restaurant shows Biden's personality and his desire and efforts to be close to the Chinese public." But not everyone agrees. Xinhua quoted one microblogger, Ningxiangdong, as saying, "Mr Vice President, I know you didn't come here for noodles, so never mind the tip. But don’t blow our 1.165 trillion U.S. dollars in Treasury assets. There are 1.3 billion Chinese keeping an eye on this." It all comes back to U.S. debt.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.