This Wednesday Chinese President Hu Jintao will visit the White House for a meeting with state officials that is highly, highly anticipated. The last time he was invited here by a state leader was in 2006, when President Bush offered him a formal lunch (no state dinner, unfortunately - and in fact while working in a think tank at the time, I was actually requested to send over a list of fun activities for Hu and his delegation to do while in the U.S.!).
This time Hu will be given the traditional formal treatment--a state dinner and a possible direct conversation about China's human right records from President Obama, a recent Nobel Peace Prize recipient himself.
President Obama will be the first American president to host a head of state who is currently holding a Nobel Peace Prize laureate in prison--and ironically enough, President Obama is the predecessor of said prisoner, whose award was given to an empty chair in Oslo.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's momentous speech on Friday directly pinpointed China's responsibility in the arena of human rights: "Many in China resent or reject our advocacy of human rights as an intrusion on their sovereignty. But as a founding member of the United Nations, China has committed to respecting the rights of all its citizens."
While the measurable efficacy of the United Nations is increasingly scrutinized by policymakers, leaders and laymen alike, putting China's role at the U.N. in the spotlight is one of the few arguments that could have an impact on the nation's leaders. With a booming population and economic proliferation that most of the world would be quite challenged to truly understand, China will always have answers to back up their issues--answers that are not only internally relevant, but also culturally divisive. The U.N. mandates are one of the few previously agreed-upon concepts that can be utilized to further domestic and global issues in front of the world.
President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize a couple of years ago was a confusing and awkward occasion for many, partisan politics aside. This week, he could conceivably "prove" his worthiness for the award by diplomatically approaching the issues of human rights with one of the most culturally challenging and divergent contexts to date.
[Also published on Huffington Post.]
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