The Real G-2: Obama's Historic Opportunity

On Saturday, Manmohan Singh left for Washington. The Indian prime minister’s four-day visit gives the struggling Obama administration an historic opportunity to further ties with New Delhi -- and to erase the failures of the president’s recently completed trip to Asia.

And there is much to erase. Let’s start with all the bowing. Obama’s bow to Japan’s Emperor Akihito received so much attention, but the president performed the same act in China, stooping low to Premier Wen Jiabao, the Communist Party’s No. 3-ranked leader. Wen, not even a head of state, received the bend-at-the-waist treatment from the president during their meeting in Beijing, as did some low-level functionary in Shanghai at the now-infamous town hall meeting. Shall we call him “Barack Bowbama”?

So was the bowing significant? The obsequious acts during both stopovers in China were, unfortunately, indications of Obama’s submissive attitude toward the Chinese communist state. Before getting on the plane for Asia, the American leader performed two figurative bows to Beijing. First, he refused to meet with the Dalai Lama on His Holiness’s trip to Washington early last month, breaking a practice of the previous three administrations. Then, in a Reuters interview on the eve of the trip, Obama said the United States and China were bound together in a “strategic partnership,” something Beijing has been waiting a decade to hear.

Despite his pre-emptive concessions, the president received little in return. The Chinese, pocketing these gains, seemed to have stiffed Obama on every issue under discussion in Beijing. The White House afterwards issued a “U.S.-China joint statement” listing areas where the two nations agreed to cooperate, but the document seems as if it was patched together to paper over differences evident during the meetings in the Chinese capital.

Not even Obama’s soaring words about cooperation and shared interests could hide the fact that Hu Jintao, his counterpart, and Premier Wen did not budge on anything of significance, especially their pegging of the renminbi to the dollar, which is the main obstacle to sustained global recovery. Pundits say that the next few months could reveal a more cooperative China when, for instance, the question of Iran lands back in the Security Council, but there was no indication during the terse post-summit appearance in Beijing on Tuesday that the two countries had made progress in coming to terms.