Hidden agenda mars Obama trip

Updated: 2010-11-16 07:40

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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I told a friend that we couldn't enter a subway station in New York as I was expecting a call. She laughed.

How could I forget that the underground in Shanghai is fully covered by the mobile phone network after being away from the city for just one year?

But I am used to living in New York, and while the subway system is great for getting around, it's a dead zone for cell phones.

As one of the world's great cities, this is hard to comprehend, given the huge disruption to the life and work of hectic New Yorkers and visitors from all over the world.

In Shanghai, people would not have been happy if the cell phone signals were too weak or unstable to be received in a station or building.

In New York, the good news is, six subway stations will have full wireless mobile phone services by the end of next year, although it will be 2016 before the whole New York subway system is covered.

I have not yet mentioned the sanitation in the subway stations - the smell, the garbage along the tracks and the rats.

When I first visited the United States in the early 1990s, I felt everything there was so advanced that China had a long way to go to catch up. Every item on the shelves seemed classy, in stark contrast to the then drab looking goods in Chinese stores.

Now, it is easy to find things that belie the notion that the US is still the most advanced country in the world.

In her latest book Third World America, Huffington Post founder, Arianna Huffington, describes how the US has declined, from the growing gap between the haves and have-nots, to the dilapidated infrastructure and mounting debt at both state and federal level.

"America is like a middle-aged man, still clinging to a perception of himself at age 23, refusing to take in the wrinkles and the bald spot showing up in the mirror. And the bad knee. And the clogged arteries that could make his heart stop beating at any moment," Huffington says of the inadequate American infrastructure facilities.

In fact this represents the US in many ways. The 10-day Asia trip by President Barack Obama, with which he hoped to create US jobs and rally support to counter the rising influence of China, reveals an out of date mentality.

Obama obviously doesn't realize that the whole world has fundamentally changed. The old US dominance is being eroded by the rise of China, India, Brazil, Russia and South Africa. Even its traditional allies in Europe are no longer steadfast.

Obama failed to create an alliance to press China at the G20 and APEC summits on either the yuan or the trade imbalance. He tried hard to engage every country he visited, but he couldn't even secure a free trade agreement with the US' close ally South Korea.

It is impossible for any US president to still try and dictate to others what they should do.

Former US Secretary of State, George Shultz, speaking to CNN on Sunday, said the first thing the US needs to do in negotiating with China, or anyone else, is to get its own house in order.

He also said the US should treat the Chinese leader Hu Jintao with great respect when he visits the US in January.

"That is the way to make progress," said Shultz.

Unfortunately, that was not the message people got from Obama's Asia trip and its agenda to offset China's influence in the region.

In pursuing such a goal, Obama overlooked the fact that the relationships between China and its neighbors are now better than ever, despite some rows in the past year. Trying to cash in on these rows is nothing but looting a burning house.

China and its neighbors should have the wisdom to resolve their own issues. While it may take some time, the time when the US could call the shots in others' affairs has now gone.

Maybe that explains why Forbes magazine has downgraded Obama to the world's second most influential man, behind President Hu Jintao.

The author is the Deputy Editor of China Daily US Edition. He can be reached at chenweihua@chinadaily.com.cn.

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